May 17, 2020

How to Defend Your Hospital Against IT Security Breaches

Cloud Services
Health IT
Health IT
3 min
According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, almost 300 breaches were made public in 2013.
Many companies worry about the breach of confidential data, especially after hearing about issues with major corporations in the news, but few industrie...

Many companies worry about the breach of confidential data, especially after hearing about issues with major corporations in the news, but few industries have as much information to worry about protecting as hospitals do. They hold all kinds of personal information on thousands of patients and are responsible for its security.

With changing technology, hospitals must continually look at new ways to protect customer data. As hackers get more advanced, so must the safeguards to prevent access.

Acquire Stronger Defenses

According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, almost 300 breaches were made public in 2013. This includes accidental equipment loss and other internal issues as well as outside hacking.  

Those stats are enough to scare any hospital administrator as he or she imagines lawsuits and serious repercussions that could ruin an organization. The answer for most people is to utilize the best in IT protection with whatever the latest technology has to offer.

With electronic medical records being shared by more health care professionals, the dangers of exposure also increase.

Encryption has become even more important today to protect records and sensitive information in the event of hardware theft or loss.

IT personnel must also make sure that the encryption cannot be turned off by anyone other than themselves. That way, if at any time a laptop or tablet goes missing, the information is protected.

In addition, many healthcare personnel limit the physical access to patient records. Logs should be maintained to detail who has had access and when.

Backup of all data is essential in the event of system issues or emergency situations. Hospitals must maintain proper procedures for device disposal to prevent unauthorized access.

Establish Proper Procedures

Protecting patient data goes beyond technology. It extends to the policies and procedures put in place by the administrators.

For example, all staff should be trained on the proper handling of confidential information.

Everyone who accesses this information should be logged in with a user ID and date the time of access. This makes everyone accountable for the protection of the information.

In addition, it should be clear to everyone what the disciplinary actions are for any breach of security.

IT personnel must create user IDs that are limited in access to only the information necessary for the staff to do their jobs. This may also include limitations such as automatic signoff after prolonged inactivity.

As the article, “New Security Challenges Accompanying the Internet of Things” states, there are several areas that people need to be aware of.

These include physical devices, data security, security in networks, and the monitoring of any known incidents or situations.

Enforce Team Effort

Hospital administrators and IT staff need to address all areas of concern and come up with solid plans to protect patient data at all points.

While new technology helps provide that protection, it is up to those in charge to select the proper processes and procedures to help ensure security.

By implementing these on a consistent basis with the proper supervision, patients can feel confident in the safety of their information with their hospital or medical facility.

About the author: Joyce Morse is an author who writes on a variety of topics, including business and medicine.

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Jun 13, 2021

How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats

Jonathan Miles
6 min
Jonathan Miles, Head of Strategic Intelligence and Security Research at Mimecast, tells us how the healthcare sector can protect itself from attacks

One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority.  In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.

The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics. 

From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world. 

Going digital 

The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years. 

This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate. 

Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.

To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care. 

Strengthening defences

Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change. 

It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device. 

These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.

Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement: 
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.

In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.

Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents. 

Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.

This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents. 
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.

Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.

As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.  

Fighting future threats

With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.

To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced. 

This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.

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