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Is your hospital vulnerable to cyberattacks?

NetworkTigers highlights hospital cybersecurity and medical data breaches.

Digital technologies make it more efficient and easier to provide better patient care and deliver effective outcomes. However, the growing number of internet-connected devices between various healthcare systems and the rise of modern technologies come with increasing cybersecurity threats and medical data breaches.

While you may have put in place measures to protect yourself from threats, your healthcare facility still remains open to more attacks. Let’s look at why your hospital is vulnerable to cyberattacks, problems experienced in healthcare cybersecurity, and more.

Why is your hospital a big target by hackers?

The benefits of technological advancement in the healthcare industry are undeniable. Electronic health records (EHRs) have become important in improving patient outcomes and diagnostics, with 75% of doctors admitting that EHRs enable them to provide better patient care.

Unfortunately, healthcare cybersecurity attacks have increased due to doctors relying on technological advancements. Healthcare facilities can implement the following strategies to address these issues:

  • Design a healthcare cybersecurity program focused on protecting patient privacy
  • Keep an eye on the latest developments to understand IT challenges
  • Create a talent pool of professionals knowledgeable in healthcare cybersecurity
  • Address vulnerabilities in healthcare legacy systems
  • Implement cybersecurity technology

These strategies can help ensure that essential systems remain operational to reduce the effect on patient care, minimize security threats in healthcare, and bolster your hospital’s cybersecurity defenses.

Problems faced in healthcare cybersecurity

Healthcare cybersecurity focuses on protecting healthcare systems such as medical software, equipment, health tracking devices, and EHRs used for healthcare management and delivery.

Healthcare cybersecurity also prevents threats by defending systems from unauthorized disclosure, use, and access of patient information. 

The main goal is to ensure the integrity, privacy, and availability of crucial patient information, which can put patient lives at risk if compromised.

The following issues are common in the healthcare industry:

Vulnerabilities of healthcare legacy systems

Replacing legacy systems with the latest digital tools can minimize vulnerabilities, provide patients and healthcare providers with better experiences, and maximize health outcomes.

However, before implementing a change, healthcare facilities should gather input from several stakeholders to create an effective plan. A great strategy can result in a successful transition if hospitals are willing to deal with challenges. 

Despite the benefits technology provides, most hospitals keep outdated legacy systems because of:

  • Upskilling expenses – Although training employees on new systems is necessary to reduce errors, it’s expensive and time-consuming. However, training can help the management integrate teamwork into the new healthcare systems.
  • Lack of money to perform upgrades – Investing in a new system requires money for paying technicians and buying new technology. Moving to another system may also result in downtime, which minimizes opportunities for hospitals to generate revenue.
  • Complacency – Often, healthcare facilities fix an issue after the damage is done – after a hack or system failure. A proactive approach to purchasing new legacy systems can help prevent future attacks.
  • Compliance process – Certifying new technology and equipment can be tedious, making hospitals that are yet to go through the process prefer not to undertake it. 

A common characteristic of healthcare legacy systems is their vulnerability to cyber threats, providing back door entry to attackers to access systems that store medical and personal data. Additionally, data theft can impact workflows and affect staff performance. 

Legacy systems also lack third-party vendors’ support, making it difficult to find the right support to fix problems once the technology becomes outdated. 

Medical data breaches and patient privacy protection 

The risk of cyber theft and other medical data breaches is increasing due to technological advances in the healthcare industry. The most popular types of theft include:

  • Insider misuse – This cybersecurity breach usually occurs as theft of patient information for malicious intent or financial gain. Other forms of insider misuse include convenience (overriding security rules to make an attack easier) and curiosity (unwarranted access to information unrelated to providing care).

Unintentional actions like human error, including opening a phishing email and mistyping data into EHRs, are also part of insider misuse cases. 

  • External theft – With this theft, hackers from a location outside of a hospital access medical and patient systems to steal and gather information for financial gain. For instance, they may use patients’ data to submit false claims to health insurance providers.

Outside theft can also include cybercriminals forcing hospitals to pay a ransom in exchange for restoring patient information systems. 

Medical data breaches in the healthcare industry

In 2020, hackers took advantage of the coronavirus pandemic fears in the healthcare industry. One example involved hackers sending an email about a COVID-19 map to track coronavirus cases.

Healthcare providers that clicked on the link activated information stealer malware that accessed credit card information and passwords. Some of the biggest healthcare security breaches of 2020 came from vulnerabilities in healthcare vendor systems, phishing attacks, and fraud schemes. 

Security breaches can cost lives in addition to accessing patient information for financial gain. Strategies to help prevent cyber threats include:

  • Training staff members on basic healthcare cybersecurity, like never clicking on links in emails from suspicious sources
  • Conducting regular risk assessments for legacy systems to identify the weak areas in a network
  • Installing cybersecurity software such as Cisco Firewalls on each connected machine
  • Applying software updates to address weak security
  • Updating passwords regularly on all systems 
  • Limiting system controls to only those who need it

Challenges of technology in healthcare

The use of technology in healthcare provides benefits like automation of manual tasks and improved communication between patients and doctors. For hospitals to achieve such benefits, connected technologies are required even though they’re targets for data breaches and cyber threats

While external breaches surpass internal breaches as the predominant source of attacks, internal breaches are more common in the healthcare industry than in other industries. 

This makes strengthening cybersecurity in healthcare facilities a top priority for IT teams trying to reduce security breaches. Another challenge is managing interoperability, which addresses how to close gaps in data shared across different points of contact.

Embrace healthcare cybersecurity practices to minimize risk

If healthcare facilities can address the above cybersecurity challenges, they can advance the industry and improve the quality of care. Healthcare network management must also prioritize cybersecurity and understand the risks of not taking action.

Maclean Odiesa
Maclean Odiesa
Maclean is a tech freelance writer with 7+ years in content strategy and development. She is also a pillar pages specialist and SEO expert.

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Is your hospital vulnerable to cyberattacks?