5 Healthcare Data Security Challenges

Data loss prevention is an integral component of how a business operates and continuously improves, and this remains true for any healthcare organization. The abundance and availability of data have helped medical professionals and patients, but it’s also appealing to any cyber criminal trying to cause harm to make a profit.

The healthcare industry works with large volumes of personally identifiable information (PII) and personal health information (PHI). These types of data are valuable, so organizations must secure them and keep them out of the hands of malicious threat actors.

The healthcare sector has experienced surges in cyberattacks over the past few years, and it’s expected to worsen. Black Kite, a cyber risk rating platform, released its 2022 Third-Party Breach Report in January. It found that cyberattacks in the healthcare sector accounted for 33% of incidents in 2021, making it the most common victim of hacks.

5 Challenges in Healthcare Data Security

Cloud and web-based software solutions have become increasingly popular, especially in the healthcare sector, so data security has become a primary concern for organizations leveraging these solutions.

It can be challenging to secure all data moving around and between organizations. Essentially, no healthcare facility is entirely immune from cyberattacks, regardless of the strength of its cybersecurity posture.

Here are five challenges healthcare organizations grapple with in terms of data security. 

1. Ransomware attacks

Ransomware attacks have plagued hospitals in recent years. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) 2021 Internet Crime Report, the healthcare sector faced the most ransomware attacks. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 148 complaints from the healthcare sector, topping even the finance industry in number of complaints. 

Ransomware tactics are evolving and growing more sophisticated. The three most common attack methods include phishing, Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) exploitation, and software vulnerability exploitation.

Many healthcare hacks can be attributed to the Conti ransomware group. Conti acts like a standard business, with a dedicated HR department, performance reviews, and even an employee of the month.

Other ransomware groups, such as LockBit 2.0 and REvil/Sodinokibi, are also viable threats to the healthcare sector. These groups attack critical infrastructure entities because they work with sensitive data and have a better chance of gaining the ransom payment.

2. Electronic health records (EHRs) vulnerabilities

The widespread adoption of electronic health records is typically seen as a boon to the sector. Patients can easily access their information, and providers can share patient data through health information exchanges (HIEs). Sharing this information is efficient and effective, but it comes with inherent security risks.

A network that stores large amounts of sensitive PHI creates an attractive opportunity for cyber criminals. PHI is of high interest on the dark web. It’s considered highly valuable because it makes it easier for threat actors to engage in identity theft.

Even a single patient record can contain a Social Security number, medical history, and treatment, insurance, or payment information a cyber criminal would profit from obtaining.

Hackers will post PHI-like stolen security cards on the dark web for the public to see, hoping patients will pay a ransom to have it removed. Some information on the dark web can sell for $1,000 or more. So, while EHRs are extremely useful in healthcare, they are challenging when it comes to security.

3. Mobile medical applications and telehealth services

The rise of mobile medical apps and telehealth services could not go unnoticed during the COVID-19 pandemic. People had to access medical care while in lockdown, so they turned to electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops to attend virtual doctor appointments.

Telehealth and mobile apps make healthcare more convenient and accessible, especially for low-income families or individuals, but it introduces a myriad of security risks. These devices typically lack extensive security features that would protect sensitive PHI.

Additionally, patients may not understand the importance of personal cybersecurity when accessing medical apps or telehealth. They may not use multi-factor authentication (MFA), and may use the same password for all their accounts. These mistakes can lead to data breaches, making healthcare organizations’ security more challenging.

4. The Internet of Things (IoT) security vulnerabilities

The Internet of Things is another piece of technology that is a positive addition to the sector but adds more security risks. Many medical organizations and facilities have embraced IoT technology because it can streamline operations and improve data reporting. However, these devices are vulnerable to cyberattacks.

One study from Armis, a leading platform for IoT, found that 63% of healthcare companies reported experiencing a security incident related to unmanaged IoT devices in recent years. This technology often lacks adequate built-in security features, poses security challenges for healthcare IT teams, and causes the cybersecurity threat landscape to expand.

Increased connectivity in healthcare is something to feel hopeful about, but IoT devices must have better security standards to protect sensitive data and patients.

5. Insider Threats

One common mistake facilities make when considering data security challenges is ignoring the potential insider threats within their company. They are just as serious as external threats, and these incidents have recently increased in the healthcare sector.

Current or former employees, vendors, business associates, medical staff, doctors, or negligent staff are all potential insider threats in a healthcare organization. In fact, Varonis’s 2021 Data Risk Report revealed that 20% of sensitive files were available and accessible to every employee.

Essentially, an insider can carry out a data breach or other cybersecurity attack and provide an outside group or individual with access and privileges or sensitive information.

How to Secure Healthcare Data Now and in the Future

A healthcare provider must realize that a good cybersecurity program has to go beyond compliance. Securing sensitive data is no easy feat, but it’s crucial to an organization’s reputation and protects vulnerable patients.

A few ways healthcare organizations can secure sensitive data now and in the future include:

  • Educate staff: Make employee cybersecurity training a priority. Organizations must equip staff with the tools needed to protect patient data and overcome security challenges. It all starts with awareness.
  • Use encryption: Using encryption is a great way to secure data, as it is difficult for attacks to decipher encrypted information and use it maliciously.
  • Implement access controls: Employees should operate on a need-to-know basis; not everyone should have access to all types of data. Implement controls and privileges based on merit and role requirements.
  • Log and monitor device use: Logging and monitoring device use is handy for audits because it creates a trail. Organizations can identify access points and understand how and why users access various data or resources.
  • Secure devices: Any device used in the facility’s network must be secured using cybersecurity best practices.
  • Mitigate IoT device risks: IoT devices should be continuously monitored for anomalies, and their inherent risks and security vulnerabilities must be mitigated.
  • Practice insider threat prevention: There are many digital solutions healthcare organizations can invest in to improve insider threat prevention tactics.
  • Conduct risk assessments: Risk assessments are essential components of any cybersecurity strategy. Healthcare providers can avoid costly data breaches by assessing potential security risks and overcoming shortcomings.
  • Backup data off-site: It’s recommended that healthcare providers back up sensitive data in an off-site location, which can come in handy during a cybersecurity incident, like ransomware attacks or natural disasters.

The Future of Data Security in Healthcare

More digital technologies are carving out their place in healthcare, and a growing amount of information must be secured.

All healthcare professionals must understand the importance of cybersecurity and why securing sensitive data is a top priority. It’s crucially important to implement the best cybersecurity practices, data management, and protection protocols to enhance security and keep information out of cyber criminals’ hands.

Devin Partida
Devin Partidahttps://rehack.com/
Devin Partida writes about business technology and innovation. Her work has been featured on Yahoo! Finance, Entrepreneur, Startups Magazine, and other industry publications. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.
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