Display of medical equipment showing cyber risks to healthcare systems

How Healthcare Systems Can Protect Against Three Major Cyber Risks

The healthcare industry requires capturing and using some of people’s most sensitive information to function correctly – their patient data and health records. But year after year, cybersecurity attacks pose an increasing threat to the healthcare system. In fact, in 2020, healthcare data breaches increased by 25 percent alone in an unfortunate record-breaking year.

Because patient data is digitized, cybercriminals have more opportunities to access and exploit the information for monetary gain. Based on the industry’s heightened security risks, ransomware, denial of service attacks and phishing campaigns are the most common attack approaches. Throughout the global pandemic, cybercriminals took advantage of the increased spotlight and stress on the healthcare industry and made it a primary target for ransomware attacks. And now, by the end of 2021, ransomware attacks are expected to quadruple in the healthcare industry.

Unfortunately, as we face future pandemics, we expect to see a similar trend and uptick in cyberattacks, specifically to healthcare data, patient records and more. These are three of the greatest threats faced by the healthcare industry:

1. Ransomware attacks

Based on the importance and potential for disruption of healthcare services, ransomware and denial of service attacks are on the rise, usually to support fraud activity for monetary gain. The success of ransomware attacks is based on the probability that the target organization has the resources to pay the ransom and that the encrypted resources are important enough for which to pay. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry checks both boxes and cybercriminals are taking advantage.

2. Data threat and extraction

Patient health records and intellectual property contain critical information and have been regularly threatened for monetary gain. To help protect physical health records, a best practice is to increase the digitized information held within electronic health records, such as online appointment registrations, claims administrators, refill reminders, and insurance forms, to name a few. However, this increased digitization is typically completed with less protections and lower dedicated security spending than in other industries, which leads to more opportunities for cyber intrusions and theft risks.

3. Third-party risk management and supplier compromise

Healthcare and hospital systems also rely on third-party vendors for medical services, supply chain and health IT needs. Recently, there have been many high-profile breaches, such as SolarWinds, that are the direct result of compromising third-party vendors, software developers and partners. Healthcare organizations need to ensure proper measures are in place and perform due diligence with third-party vendors to protect system access and highly sensitive information.

To mitigate these ongoing threats, healthcare systems must implement cybersecurity best practices. First and foremost, it is critical to put systems in place to protect what matters most to the organization – also known as their crown jewels. In the healthcare industry, this may be patient data, clinical or R&D data, among many other items.

Specific cybersecurity best practices that healthcare systems should adopt include:

  • Business Resilience: When running an organization, multiple operations are in place, but historically two or three operations are vital. For those several vital assets within the network, organizations need to ensure that those systems and processes are resilient and there is no downtime.
  • Persistent and Proactive Monitoring: 24/7 security monitoring is critical to detecting cyber threats and activity across networks. To enhance visibility, log all data access and endpoints and deploy proactive threat hunting and defense measures for targeted attacks.
  • Incident Response: Plan for the inevitable. Healthcare systems must have the right incident response plan in place, including holding frequent tabletop exercises to simulate an incident. These simulations are critical to prepare for common and worst-case scenarios.
  • Security Awareness: Security awareness is key to ensuring employees are cognizant of cybersecurity risks. Educating users, patients, and clinicians on what cybersecurity tools and policies are in place will aid in protecting its environment and everyone’s privacy.

While cybersecurity threats will continue to accelerate across the healthcare industry, organizations can help protect themselves from ongoing dangers. By being vigilant, creating resiliency, an incident response plan and building security awareness, they can equip themselves to navigate increasing threats now and in the future.