Cloud computing is increasingly common in the healthcare industry, as it enhances data accessibility and increases cost-effective scalability. Cloud-based platforms have numerous applications across healthcare, from EHR hosting and telemedicine to patient data sharing and data backup, and more.
For example, when healthcare organizations host their desktops on the cloud, they can ensure more detailed and consistent HIPAA-compliant data backups, relieving concerns about data loss during natural disasters, technical difficulties, or data breaches.
Despite the numerous uses and benefits of cloud-based systems in healthcare, cloud technology also presents a host of security challenges.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into the top 11 data security issues in cloud computing for the healthcare sector. We will explore their impact along with potential solutions. Read on to learn security best practices to keep in mind when cloud-computing in healthcare.
How to Fix the 11 Most Common Data Security Issues in Healthcare Cloud Computing
As mentioned in the previous section, there are many applications and benefits of cloud-based infrastructure in healthcare. However, it’s important to plan for the potential implications for data security, privacy, and compliance that can accompany this revolutionary technology.
These are the top 11 cloud computing security issues to be aware of and how to address them:
1. Security System Misconfigurations
Security system misconfigurations occur when cloud platforms aren’t properly set up, leaving gaps or vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Because cloud-based software like SaaS, or software as a service, is designed for easy data sharing, it can be challenging for companies to monitor role-based access control to make sure that the data is only visible to authorized users.
Organizations leveraging SaaS providers may not have as much visibility into security controls, because they are typically relying on their cloud service provider (CSP) to configure and secure their cloud deployments. When a company is using a multi-cloud system involving multiple vendors, it’s possible for a security gap to be missed.
Impact: Security system misconfigurations can lead to unauthorized access, data leaks, and other security breaches, putting patient information at risk and damaging the healthcare organization’s reputation.
Solution: Healthcare groups should request their cloud service vendors conduct regular cybersecurity audits of their network configurations and security settings. Overall, audits help to evaluate the effectiveness of cloud data security, identify issues, and assess risk, which provides a roadmap to close security gaps.
Patient Data—Always Secure
Unmatched cloud security that keeps your healthcare data protected and compliant.
2. Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks
A DoS attack typically happens when a malicious actor uses a fake IP address to overwhelm a machine or network with false service requests, rendering it unusable. Users who try to gain access to email, websites, or online accounts are unable to open them, with the site freezing or going blank. For a healthcare practice, a DoS attack might mean your EHR stops responding or crashes altogether.
Impact: When healthcare organizations run vital systems on the cloud, disruption to these systems can disrupt patient care. In some cases, a successful DoS attack can also lead to a data breach. As a result, DoS attacks (especially where the attacker demands a ransom) can present significant computing security issues for an organization’s network.
Solution: Healthcare organizations should seek cloud service providers who offer DoS mitigation services and implement load balancing and network segmentation to isolate critical systems from potential attack vectors. By distributing traffic efficiently, cloud service providers can mitigate the impact of DoS attacks.
3. Internal Threats
Sometimes the most impactful security threats are internal. This includes employees, contractors, and third-party partners with authorized access to an organization’s network and sensitive resources. In some cases, internal team members unintentionally jeopardize cloud computing security by making mistakes that compromise data integrity and confidentiality.
(Common mistakes include using weak passwords, sharing credentials to others without the necessary permissions, and falling for phishing attacks.) In other cases, insider threats are carried out intentionally by actors with malicious intent.
Internal threats to cloud computing security can be challenging to detect because the cloud is accessible from the Internet, and many organizations don’t have direct oversight on this type of infrastructure (typically managed by third-party providers).
This is even more true in multi-cloud deployments—which provide yet another example of why choosing an expert cloud service provider is vital.
Impact: Insider threats can result in data theft, manipulation, or unauthorized access, potentially leading to the exposure of sensitive patient data.
Solution: Implement robust user access controls, conduct employee training on security best practices, and employ monitoring and regular cybersecurity assessments. Cloud service vendors like True North ITG can help detect unusual activity that might indicate an insider threat.
How Healthcare Organizations Benefit From Relying on a Healthcare IT Firm
4. Data Breaches
A data breach happens when someone gains access to sensitive data, disclosing or acquiring this private information. This could include personal data (Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, healthcare data) or corporate data (like customer records, intellectual property, or financial information).
Cyberattacks of this sort could include a ransomware attack, where a patient data gets seized, with the threat to be sold if the requested amount isn’t paid. A breach could also include the physical theft of hard drives, thumb drives, or even paper files containing sensitive information.
Impact:. The average healthcare data breach cost $11 million in 2022— more than twice the average cost across other industries. In addition to hefty legal and financial consequences, an organization’s reputation can be damaged if a cybercriminal gains unauthorized access to their patients’ information.
Solution: Encrypt sensitive data both in transit and at rest to ensure that even if unauthorized access occurs, the information remains unintelligible to the attackers.
In addition, your IT team should regularly conduct vulnerability assessments, and have an incident response plan in place in case of a data breach. Choose a cloud service provider that offers advanced encryption and data loss prevention tools to safeguard patient data.
|Learn more about cloud computing for healthcare with our blogs:|
5. Lack of Regulatory Compliance
Because healthcare organizations handle extremely sensitive patient health information (PHI), they are bound by the strict standards of healthcare regulations like HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).
Impact: Failure to comply with these regulations—especially when they lead to data breaches—can be especially serious. They can result in severe financial penalties and legal consequences—not to mention a loss of patient trust. It’s crucial that healthcare organizations follow strict regulatory protocols and mitigate security concerns in cloud computing.
Solution: Your organization should partner with a healthcare-focused IT firm to ensure compliance, conduct regular audits, and stay updated with regulatory changes. Select vendors of cloud-based infrastructure who specialize in healthcare compliance, offer compliance monitoring, and facilitate audits to ensure healthcare data remains secure and compliant.
Because one of the most common security concerns in cloud computing is outdated software, regularly updating and patching software (aka security patch management) is essential for maintaining a safe cloud environment.
6. Insecure APIs
APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) take the features and services of one application and apply them to another, veritably extracting and sharing data both inside and across organizations.
They essentially enable software and apps to talk with one another—making it so that you don’t need to build a new program or platform from scratch. Cloud service providers generally furnish their customers with protocols for using the APIs to make them as accessible as possible.
Impact: Though accessibility is a positive, APIs can create problems if your organization doesn’t have proper cloud computing security protocols in place. If cybercriminals get ahold of the API documentation, it could be used to exploit ways of accessing and exporting private data from the cloud-based environment.
Solution: Conducting audits can be extremely useful in gauging whether the current layers of security are sufficient to prevent anyone from breaking into your organization’s data centers or API.
In particular, methods like penetration testing (“pen testing”) simulate an attack on various API endpoints, which will denote how protected the organization’s private data really is. This will also tell you which areas need to be improved.
7. Phishing and Social Engineering Attacks
Phishing and social engineering are techniques used to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information or credentials. Phishing can include urgent messages delivered via email, phone calls, text messages (“smishing”), or even physical access points.
Typically, these messages direct victims to a fraudulent website, imploring them to make purchases, give up their password, and more.
Impact: Successful phishing attacks can compromise user credentials and lead to unauthorized access to healthcare systems and data, potentially compromising patient privacy. Phishing and social engineering accounts are incredibly common; according to the FBI, they account for at least 1 in 5 of the data breaches that organizations face.
Solution: It is useful to work with a third-party service provider that can evaluate your organization’s cybersecurity awareness, identify potential data security risks, and develop strategies to mitigate the likelihood of phishing incidents.
This could include educating employees about phishing risks, implementing email filtering, and even using multi-factor authentication (MFA) to enhance security. Cloud service vendors should test your organization’s susceptibility to these types of attacks, analyzing patterns and suggesting improvements for closing any gaps in security.
8. Account Hijacking
Effective identity and access management ensures that the right individuals have the appropriate level of access to remote resources.
Unfortunately, account hijacking is a serious threat to security in cloud applications. Many employees continue to have insufficient password security, including reusing passwords across accounts or employing familiar or easy-to-guess passwords. This is an issue for phishing attacks (as noted above) because it means one password can be used in a variety of accounts.
Impact: Weak identity management practices can lead to unauthorized access and data breaches, or data loss. When a cybercriminal has an employee’s log-in information, they can infiltrate the system to access confidential data, even gaining control over an online account.
These hijacks sometimes also take a long time to gauge, with some studies estimating it can take nearly a year to identify cases of stolen credentials.
Solution: Start by strengthening account management policies. Because human error is a significant contributor to account hijackings, it’s a good idea to train staff on best practices for avoiding stolen credentials.
In addition, we suggest regularly reviewing user permissions, and implementing multi-factor authentication to minimize risks. Healthcare organizations can also partner with cloud service vendors that offer advanced identity and access management solutions, like role-based access control to enhance security.
9. Third-Party Security Risks
The use of third-party services and vendors in hosted virtual environments introduces additional cloud computing security risks, as these vendors may not meet the organization’s security standards. Unfortunately, this leaves practice and patient data vulnerable to safety concerns and security threats.
Impact: A breach in a third-party service can have a cascading effect on your healthcare organization, exposing sensitive data and disrupting operations.
Solutions: It’s important to vet cloud service providers carefully, reviewing their security measures, and ensuring they comply with healthcare industry standards.
Healthcare groups can start by learning more about the third-party vendor’s hosted services and history with data breaches, and how they were handled. In addition, companies can request comprehensive security assessments from vendors, and establish clear security protocols and contractual obligations.
10. Data Loss & Leakage
While a major benefit of cloud-based environments is that they make it easy to share data and collaborate with colleagues, this is also a potential data security risk.
Because cloud environments make it possible to invite outside parties to view company data through email invitations or public links, these environments also create serious concerns for data loss or leakage.
Impact: When links are shared outside of the organization, they can also be stolen as part of a cyberattack or guessed by a cybercriminal. This in turn makes a once private and protected resource now vulnerable to unauthorized access.
This is complicated by the fact that a single employee may be responsible for providing or revoking access. As a result, security controls largely rest with individual employees rather than an IT team.
Solution: Healthcare companies should ensure that their cloud service vendors implement strong encryption mechanisms to protect data at all times, adhering to industry standards. They should also make sure they employ data loss prevention (DLP) solutions that monitor and protect sensitive data, preventing unauthorized access or sharing of patient information.
These solutions can include encryption, access controls, and monitoring tools to detect and respond to suspicious activities.
11. Inadequate Data Backup and Disaster Recovery
Inadequate data recovery measures in the event of a network disruption can result in prolonged downtime, which in turn has an impact on staff and clinician productivity. In addition, there can be a loss of critical healthcare data in the event of a disaster.
Impact: Data loss can disrupt patient care and hinder clinical operations. Prolonged data recovery can also impact patient care and even compromise patient safety.
Solution: Healthcare organizations should partner with cloud service vendors that provide robust backup and disaster recovery solutions, ensuring data is quickly recoverable in case of unexpected incidents. It is important to regularly save data, conduct disaster recovery drills, and store backups in secure off-site locations.
Easily Manage Cloud Computing Security Issues With True North ITG
As a healthcare IT leader, you face the daunting task of managing the complexities of cloud security. As discussed, the healthcare industry relies heavily on cloud computing to improve patient care and streamline operations. However, the nature of working with private patient information also makes it a prime target for cyberattacks.
As IT leaders, it’s our responsibility to secure patient data, and this can be achieved through a proactive approach.
Because no system is entirely invulnerable, having the solutions discussed above—like regular software and network updates, security patch management, staff training, network segmentation, and ongoing audits and pen testing—is crucial. So is having an incident response plan to minimize damage in case of a security incident.
It can be overwhelming to navigate all the potential cloud computing security concerns. Collaborating with a trusted third-party cloud service provider like True North ITG can help your organization address these challenges effectively.
At True North, we proudly provide:
- Expertise: We specialize in healthcare IT and understand the unique security requirements and compliance standards of the industry.
- Proactive monitoring: We provide proactive monitoring and management of cloud infrastructure, ensuring quick detection and response to security threats.
- Compliance assurance: True North ITG ensures your healthcare organization remains compliant with regulatory standards, such as HIPAA.
- Custom solutions: We tailor cloud security solutions to fit your specific needs, providing a holistic approach to safeguarding patient data.
At True North, we bring over 20 years of experience in healthcare IT leadership. We have developed and tested the processes for enhancing and protecting your practice. For this reason, we are confident in the value of our purpose-built, cross-country data centers.
When you work with us, you’re not just contracting with a third-party cloud provider. You’re building a lasting partnership with a cutting-edge organization dedicated to implementing the right solutions for your unique cloud computing needs and security concerns.
Contact us today to learn how we can start mitigating the top cloud computing security risks being faced by your healthcare organization.