Shield yourself from healthcare's cybersecurity storm

by Brad Garland

A storm is on the horizon and if you are a part of the healthcare industry, prepare for rough seas. This storm, without rain or thunder, is digital and presents an even more burdensome proposition for healthcare organizations: the mass digitization of health and medical records (collectively, “EHRs”). In adopting new technologies to digitize patient records, healthcare organizations aim to harmonize and improve patient outcomes. Rooted in the ambitious goals of HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act), digitization has been fraught with its own challenges unique to both healthcare and the cyber space. Hospitals, who operate at the intersection of health and technology, should prepare to anticipate and address cybersecurity challenges raised by ongoing digitization of health records.

What is the biggest challenge healthcare providers face?

The largest threat to the healthcare industry, specifically hospitals, is a data breach. Since January of this year, more than 31 million medical records have been breached and the US. Security analysts expect that number to keep growing as more hospitals complete the digital transition of medical records. Healthcare data is valuable to attackers because of the sensitive medical, financial, and uniquely personal information stored within an individual’s record. Additionally, many aspects of a patient’s record are permanent, unlike a credit card number, which can be replaced. Using this information, cybercriminals can steal an individual’s identity; apply for loans and open fraudulent bank accounts. For this reason, cybercriminals are willing to pay a premium – a protected health information record is almost 100 times more valuable as a credit card number on the Dark Web.

Healthcare, as a whole, is subject to various industry and external forces that have slowed the adoption of new technology. Outside of persistent data breaches, the healthcare industry itself is subject to a complex framework of regulatory requirements that IT personnel and doctors alike must carefully navigate. Chief among these regulations is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which imposes strict requirements on how patient records, both paper and digital, are managed. HIPAA’s strict requirements on the uses and disclosures of patient information imposes operational and financial burdens on healthcare providers who must balance the efficiency of digitization with privacy and security requirements of HIPAA. A lack of standardization of healthcare vendors and systems further hinders communication between different hospitals and providers. Internet-connected medical devices that transmit sensitive data internet are also susceptible to interception of that data or worse, an attack on the functionality of the device. Highly sensitive data, complex regulatory requirements, a lack of standardized systems - It is easy to see why hospitals are among the most vulnerable, and most targeted institutions for cyber attackers.

Okay, I understand the challenges. Now what do I do?

In trying to find solutions to these challenges, the cybersecurity and healthcare industries can both learn from the same adage: prevention is worth a pound of cure. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations must prioritize cybersecurity now to prevent and minimize cyber threats in the future. Yes - investing in adequate security measures will require substantial time and money. However, failing to do so means paying significantly more down the road in ransomware attacks and opportunity costs while internal systems are down. Likewise, as more medical devices connect to the internet, cybersecurity measures must evolve to anticipate against remote attacks. Staff must also properly vet vendors for their security standards and to ensure interoperability between legacy IT systems. These are a few of the many ways healthcare organizations can start taking immediate action to prepare for the storm.

Remember, you don’t have to prepare for this digital storm alone - we’d be honored to serve as your cybersecurity partner. Vala Secure can help you find the appropriate solutions to your healthcare-related security issues. Keep your patients safe, and avoid the costs associated with breaches. Let’s craft a custom plan that works within your budget and goals to mitigate risk. Contact us today to get started.