Preventing cyber-attacks in healthcare settings continues to be a prevailing theme in the industry in 2022; the Department of Health and Human Services first launched its information security and privacy program in 2003. In 2020, the number of cyber-attacks in healthcare climbed for the 5th straight year, jumping 42%.
Unfortunately, the increase of both remote work and clinical contract work due to the COVID-19 pandemic further tilled and cultivated the soil for cybercriminals to plant malware, phishing attempts, and other attacks. Dangerous international issues have also heightened fear and risk of cyber threats.
Considering the rise in sophistication in cyber-attacks, firewalls and password changes are not enough to keep your organization safe. Healthcare organizations must prepare and protect themselves with more sophisticated security measures. In this post, we’ll cover 7 advanced prevention strategies that you should consider adding to your cyber security playbook.
You Can’t Afford to Ignore IT Security in Your Healthcare Organization
In 2021, the healthcare sector experienced the highest levels of cybersecurity breaches and compromised patient records than any year prior. In fact, the number of data breaches has tripled since 2018 (from 14 million to 45 million) and will only continue to increase if more robust security measures are not implemented.
There is no perfect formula for how to prevent cyber-attacks in healthcare—particularly since the methods for cyber-attack are broad and ever-evolving. Just to give a few examples:
Social engineering attacks
The most used method. Manipulates humans into disclosing private or valuable information. Examples include phishing and pretexting.
Capitalizes on devices interconnected by business Wi-Fi networks. Examples include jamming, Bluetooth vulnerabilities, and WPA2 attacks.
Malware and ransomware
Malware is a software developed with the intent to harm, and ransomware attacks are a subset of malware that either locks users out or denies users access until the ransom is fulfilled. Examples include viruses and worms.
Responding to an IT Security Scare in Healthcare
Network sSecurity in hHealthcare
Uses weaknesses in servers, firewalls, printers, etc., often to tamper with data or immobilize the network. Examples include denial of service, ping attacks, and spoofing.
Healthcare facilities must implement a comprehensive security strategy to decrease the likelihood of any of these attacks, heighten the safety of medical records, bolster the trust of their patients, and improve the overall longevity of the business.
7 Ways to Prevent Cyber- Attacks in Healthcare
Most healthcare systems have a foundational knowledge of cybersecurity risks and have introduced basic prevention measures, including:
- Limited employee access privileges and prompt offboarding procedures
- Regular patches and updates to systems, devices, and software
- Strong passwords and dual authentication procedures
- Employee training and education around common social engineering attacks
- Email and web filters and blockers, as well as encryption for digital communications
- Fundamental network security in healthcare (e.g., firewalls)
However, fewer organizations in the healthcare industry have taken the extensive measures necessary to fully address vulnerabilities and safeguard lucrative information (e.g., electronic health records). For those facilities and clinician groups ready to ramp up their security and learn how to prevent cyber-attacks in healthcare, these 7 strategies are crucial:
1. Deploy frequent training and random penetration tests: Given the realities of human emotion and human error (particularly in such stressful times for the field), people can be a big security risk. However, with thorough education and practical experience, they can also be a meaningful defense asset. Set up a regular cadence of training refreshers, conduct network audits, and employ penetration testing (e.g., fake email phishing attempts, in-person ‘piggybacking’) to measure employee understanding and compliance.
2. Closely monitor third-party access: Just because a contractor or vendor passed your cybersecurity professionals’ initial vetting process does not mean the job is done. Even if the partner organization itself does not have malintent, you could still be compromised down the line if that partner’s cybersecurity practices are not adequate. Monitor third-party activity, conduct regular check-ins, and consider tighter access restrictions.
3. Make it official: Rather than a set of unspoken rules or informal guidelines within the IT department, make your cybersecurity policies official by developing both organization-wide safety measures and allowing for appropriate, department-specific customizations and variations. Healthcare security is of the utmost importance—and you can’t afford things slipping through the cracks.
4. Invest in biometric capabilities and multi-factor authentication: James Bond movies and Apple devices have been showing off advanced biometric security and authentication methods for years, and it is time healthcare catches on. From fingerprint scans to keystroke analysis, there are many options for authentication that blow password resets and auto-generated text codes out of the water.
Improve Your Cybersecurity Posture in 30 Minutes
5. Layer detection and prevention, powered by AI: In the simplest of terms, attack detection technologies find issues—often watching behavior patterns or identifying known malicious instructions—and alert the appropriate people to fix them. Attack prevention technologies, on the other hand, contribute the ability to take immediate action to hinder further breach progress. Both systems are highly valuable in helping protect patient data and owe much of their effectiveness to AI—machine learning specifically—to both identify patterns and make immediate decisions on how to stop attacks. Given their popularity, these technologies can now often be found bundled together or combined into one system.
6. Team up: Organize internal groups (often called Red Team and Blue Team) to run simulations and test enterprise-wide security. The Red Team acts as the mock attacker, while the Blue Team is composed of the defenders, working to prevent and respond to a healthcare data breach.
7. Prepare a disaster recovery plan: Despite all best efforts, an attack may be inevitable, or you may incur a breach of unsecured areas. In these cases, it is critical to have a strong response and recovery strategy to limit long-term effects on the business. Consider disaster recovery services to help you rebound from unexpected outages, backup data securely, decrease disruption to operations, and even keep important medical devices online.
Protect your Organization and your Patients
A commitment to patient care and patient safety goes beyond high-quality clinical support; it requires an IT security healthcare strategy that protects the system and those in it broadly and deeply. If you’re looking for a consultant or solution to help you augment your cybersecurity, True North can help.
Healthcare facilities and provider practices across the country rely on True North for holistic cybersecurity support—from audits and data backups to disaster recovery and vendor support. We’d love to see how we can help you reach cybersecurity maturity too.