The world is experiencing a digital revolution. Almost every organization, be it small or large, in every possible sector of business strives to create an IT infrastructure for itself. Irrespective of the scale, having a digital footprint is considered imperative for a variety of reasons. Not only is it cost-effective to use systems and programs to run the operations of a business, but it is also easy on other resources of the company.
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The healthcare sector is no different from the rest in terms of embracing a shift towards digitization. Considering the number of data hospitals and other medical institutes process on a daily basis, it is only logical that they have machines which are capable of processing the data faster. While a small chunk of paperwork is still maintained by hospitals around the globe, most of the healthcare information is stored on servers, either physical or cloud.
While this process has brought a lot of convenience amongst several other benefits, there have been a couple of drawbacks associated with it. One of the biggest threats lurking around the healthcare sector these days is cybercrime. Hacking, phishing and ransomware are just a few of the many types of attacks to torment the industry in the past few years. This sector is the most frequently targeted by cybercriminals.
Fortunately, the healthcare industry has been taking steps to ensure that they can protect patient data more appropriately. Other organizations are also playing in their part in supplying state of the art solutions to the market. This helps significantly in keeping attackers at bay especially these days when figures suggest that damages from cybercrimes are expected to reach $6 trillion by 2021.
Here we take a comprehensive rundown of the situation at hand as well as the potential solutions which can be employed by healthcare organizations.
Cybercrimes and the healthcare sector
The healthcare sector is by far the most vulnerable when it comes to cybercrimes. Just within the past five years, there have been some massive attacks not just in the US but around the world. In 2015, it was reported that data for almost 79 million patients had been stolen. This included all kinds of sensitive information including social security numbers and home addresses etc.
While this has been the largest attack by far, the healthcare sector is still targeted frequently although the scale is smaller due to increased vigilance. In July 2018, another report surfaced which stated that over a three year period, data of around 150,000 NHS patients was leaked and landed in the hands of cybercriminals. These attacks have been witnessed across the globe including in countries like the UK and Singapore.
Besides these simpler attacks, there is a threat from ransomware. It is one of the more recent types of malware which hackers are using to take control of private information. In the past three years, there have been a significant number of incidences where hospitals and other healthcare institutions have confirmed that their systems were infected by ransomware. Hefty amounts were even paid in some cases to regain control of the information held hostage.
IT, in the past, was considered one of the most insignificant spending for a healthcare institution. Even today, this department hardly finds enough focus and budget to implement sophisticated programs or cybersecurity solutions. This is one of the main reasons why this sector is considered an easy target by hackers. Without adequate security measures, the healthcare industry remains susceptible to these threats. Thankfully, professionals are realizing the seriousness of the situation and finding solutions for it.
The importance of data security in healthcare
There is a reason why healthcare data holds the importance that it does to cybercriminals. It is obvious that financial sectors should be the ones which are at the highest level of danger but sadly that is not the case. The information which is stored by banks and other companies can be changed easily when a breach is detected. The account passwords and other data is modifiable.
If a hacker steals financial data, which is also relatively difficult because these institutions have more elaborate arrangements for cybersecurity, they can’t use it to directly access any accounts for long Customers can contact their respective banks and have the relevant information changed before the hackers can cause any serious damage using it.
As we discussed earlier, the healthcare industry is a careful spender when it comes to information technology. Moreover, the data which they keep is sort of timeless. It can’t be changed and won’t expire in any way. This includes social security numbers, home addresses and a plethora of medical records as well as patient history. All this information can be used in a variety of ways like identity theft and tampering with the ongoing healthcare process.
These points lay clear emphasis on how important it is to protect the data stored by healthcare institutions. Hackers are becoming more advanced and more knowledgeable every year. There are evolving and coming back with ways to breach systems that have not been witnessed before. As of now, almost every industry is two steps behind. The fact that cybersecurity damages jumped from $3 trillion in 2016 to an estimated $6 trillion in the next five years is a testament to this.
Consequences of medical data breaches
Medical data from patients is sensitive on a number of different levels. It is of utmost importance that this data be protected at all costs. Doctors and patients talk in private and it is ensured that there are non-disclosure agreements protecting these conversations. The education which health practitioners receive also includes moral and ethical standards which state that patient information is highly confidential and should remain so.
Besides the things which already came under discussion in the earlier section, medical records are also of crucial importance to health processes and the patients themselves. No individual is easy with discussion their medical conditions with their closest relatives, let alone spreading it out in the world. While doctors and other healthcare professionals understand these sentiments, cybercriminals remain oblivious to them.
It is estimated that one in four patients across the US has been a victim to medical data breaches. For a similar percentage, these attacks have happened repeatedly. The average costs which a patient has to pay every time an incident like this happens are almost $2,500. This is an expense which is not covered by insurance and has to be paid from the pocket. Although this cost is quite steep for a single instance, the multiplication which occurs when the same thing happens again is substantially devastating.
Medical records and other healthcare data are also essential in helping professionals trace the course of any treatments which a patient might be going through. Sometimes, this can become a matter of life and death. In the event of a data breach, some of this information is lost or becomes damaged due to tampering. This can have devastating consequences in terms of the treatment which is provided to a patient.
Potential threats to patient privacy
The people behind the threats and issues are constantly updating themselves. As soon as one attempt gets exposed, the industry creates deterrence against it. So, obviously, the hackers have to come up with more intuitive ways to gain access to healthcare systems. This on-going battle has resulted in cyberattacks going from simple hacking to more complicated things like ransomware.
Before we dive into the threats which healthcare institutions face, it is important to point that a hacker’s skills are often complemented by the lack of awareness amongst doctors and other staff members. This makes the cybercriminals job easier. Negligence on the part of the employees at any stage can allow hackers to easily stroll into the cyberspaces and manipulate them as they deem fit.
Here is a list of some other potential threats which hospitals and other medical organizations can face with respect to patient privacy:
- Solutions which make lives difficult: There are a number of complicated security programs which are being used by certain organizations. While these might provide a high level of security, they are difficult and sometimes impossible for doctors and nurses to operate. The reason is simple; these professionals are not trained to do so.
- Public Wi-Fi: Doctors and other medical practitioners are the ones who can have the highest possibility of accessing patient data remotely. Many professionals from the field tend to do that on public Wi-Fi. This is a huge threat because hackers love unprotected networks because gaining access to any device connected to such a network is quite simple.
- Staff negligence: One of the greatest threats to patient privacy remains the fact that doctors and other staff members are not trained to look out for hacking attempts. There are a variety of simple ways which cybercriminals use to breach healthcare data systems like email attachments and fake website links. All staff members have to do is click on these URLs or download and open the attachments. This is all it takes for the systems to become infected.
The potential issues which the healthcare industry faces can be addressed and rectified are simple ways. All around the world, hospitals have begun to take the necessary steps and experts believe they are heading in the right direction.
A few best practices for data protection in healthcare
Healthcare data breaches are a real and growing threat however, the good news is that awareness regarding the misuse of information is also rising rapidly. Many individuals and organizations have learnt their lessons at the expense of some consequences but now there is a collective effort underway to curb these issues.
A Forbes article has quoted one cybersecurity expert, Peter Carlisle as saying that the enormous number of data breaches has brought them into the “consumer collective consciousness”. While staff members still require formal training to understand the intricate ways in which cybercrime is evolving and how they target organizations, it is safe to say that most of them are at least aware of the situation on their own.
Larger hospitals and healthcare institutions are allocating resources to building cybersecurity infrastructures. At the same time, smaller medical facilities have responsibilities of their own to make sure that they play their part in facilitating data security in cyberspace. Here are a few best practices which individuals and institutions can undertake with respect to data protection:
- Training of employees: Not that it needed to be said but training doctors and other staff members are imperative to plug the most convenient avenue from where hackers gain entry into hospital systems,
- Enforce standard data usage practices: Controlling the way data is transferred and utilized within and outside cyberspaces is another activity that can help limit the chances of unauthorized breaches. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can chalk out SOPs to make sure that sensitive data and its access authorities are restricted to a handful of individuals,
- Use small scale security solutions: Larger organizations have the resources to put bigger systems and even complete departments in place to deal with their cybersecurity challenges. Smaller healthcare institutes don’t have to worry because they can fulfil their requirements by using small and simple solutions like business VPNs and other dedicated programs.
Using careful combinations of these elements and others can prove sufficient in creating a strong defence against cybercrimes.
Regulatory compliance challenges
Given the level of sensitivity that the healthcare sector commands, it comes as no surprise that there are several bodies regulating it. Any facility be it small or large has to comply with the acts and ordinances which are laid out by these bodies. The primary regulation which healthcare institutes have to comply with is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996, more simply known as HIPAA.
Other laws include the GDPR and SOC 2. These legislations can vary depending on the country which the hospital or clinic operates in but these are some of the acts which have the furthest reach. Various governmental bodies help to make sure that every medical facility complies with the part of these laws which apply to them. Failure to do so can result in fines, bans and other consequences.
Complying with these regulations is not easy. They are constantly being revised and need to be studied to understand which new laws apply to a specific institute. The healthcare sector requires constant assistance in these matters from cybersecurity solution providers so that this process can be streamlined effectively.
Using a VPN solution for healthcare cybersecurity
A VPN is one of the most robust and efficient solutions for small scale cybersecurity for healthcare facilities. The Business packages available for Virtual Private Networks allow organizations like healthcare facilities to put up a sound defence mechanism against any elements which might try to breach and steal patient information. The basic function of the VPN is to mask IP addresses while users are connected to the internet. This function alone eliminates threats including the ability of hackers to view browsing sessions for different individuals.
Business VPNs always bring greater control and freedom to workplaces by introducing dedicated IP servers for anonymous browsing. This coupled with public Wi-Fi security and internet kill switches mean that no matter where a user may be, they can carry out their official duties without having to worry about data leaks or hacks. Inadvertently, VPNs help healthcare facilities meet many compliance regulations which call for greater security for user data.
VPNs are cost-effective solutions which don’t require elaborate infrastructure or other resources. It can be set-up easily using traditional install-and-play processes. Once they are in place, they secure remote access for the facility, centralize resources, allow data tracking and ensure the protection of sensitive information. At the end of the day, the benefits which a VPN can bring to any small-scale organization are way beyond the investment which they require making them worth the money.
Healthcare facilities and professionals are the ones which suffer the greatest number of cyberattacks. The information gathered by these institutions is so valuable that even financial entities don’t provide this level of interest for hackers. A medical facility is like a one-stop-shop for cybercriminals where they can find out almost everything about a potential victim and then use this information for various sinister activities.
VPNs can help curtail many of these threats for small and medium-size healthcare organizations. Ivacy is one of the most noteworthy solution providers in the market today. The services from the company have no parallel. With thousands of customers across the globe using Ivacy, the reviews, speak for themselves.
Besides the traditional VPN like functions, Ivacy goes a step and beyond in providing healthcare facilities with the coverage they deserve. With dedicated servers and IP addresses, browsing in teams or individually as well as extensive coverage across the globe, there are no solutions out there which can come close to the promise which Ivacy puts forward. For more information, visit our website or get in touch with one of our representatives at the earliest.
Published on August 19, 2019