The technological evolution has accelerated at an unprecedented pace in recent times, driving widespread reform across every industry and facilitating the introduction of cutting-edge advancements likely considered improbable not long ago. Along with many other sectors that play a crucial role in society, this applies to healthcare, with technology re-imagining processes, streamlining services, and empowering patients and healthcare professionals alike.
Yet for all the benefits that have become apparent in today’s technology-driven world, challenges have also emerged – presenting providers, regulators, payers and the wider healthcare community with an exacerbating need to adapt to specific new normal circumstances and overcome related repercussions. Several discrepancies meet this criterion, although the most pressing of all is cybersecurity, which poses deeply concerning risk factors should hackers successfully infiltrate systems and cyberattacks occur.
Understanding the cybersecurity threat
Modern healthcare and technology are now entwined, with more and more healthcare services becoming exclusively reliant on technology to function. While medical services and essentials have, until recently, always been available in traditional facilities such as hospitals, laboratories, and pharmacies, providing them via technology has resulted in several simultaneous advantages, including greater convenience, better cost savings, and larger patient reach. However, modern healthcare is, as a digitized sector, faced with numerous cybersecurity problems. In addition to potential malware infections, private data leakages, and service attacks, it is also possible for application, configuration, and operating system vulnerabilities to be exploited – with many organizations struggling to operate as they rely on old technology and outdated systems.
For example, research published in early 2020 found 83% of healthcare systems were running on outdated software [According to Tech Republic] – leaving potential loopholes for cybersecurity breaches. Moreover, attacks on medical data increased dramatically last year alone. Over 102 million healthcare records were exposed in 2020 due to data breaches as per Gulf News, and medical workers being unfamiliar with security best practices was also highlighted in the 2020 Healthcare Cybersecurity Report, which revealed how 62 percent of hospital administrators feel inadequately trained to mitigate cyber risks according to the Healthcare Cybersecurity Report 2020. With these statistics in mind, healthcare organizations must act immediately to overcome such cybersecurity risks and ensure they can protect electronic information, safeguard assets from unauthorized access, and ensure complete confidentiality.
Essential steps to combat cybercrime in healthcare
For healthcare organizations to achieve success in this direction and meet their cybersecurity objectives, the four steps outlined below will assist them in their efforts and equip staff and their establishment with the vigilance, practicality, and security they require in today’s tech landscape:
Provide comprehensive cybersecurity training for staff
Concerns have already been raised within the industry regarding inadequate cybersecurity training. Therefore, organizations should ensure all personnel are given the training they need to contribute to preventing cyberattacks. Irrespective of system robustness, it is important to appreciate that system security hinges on internal user competencies. Social engineering attacks, such as phishing and spoofing, continue to increase as they exploit a lack of security practices’ knowledge on the part of system users – and training can ensure personnel are aware of various protection measures, capable of applying them, and helping to decrease cyberattack success rates.
Implement strict authentication measures
There are various effective user authentication techniques that can dispel actions geared towards user credentials theft. For example, One Time Password (OTP) is a token that is valid for one login session only, while multi-factor authentication is another method that verifies user identities by granting system access after a code sent to their devices of choice has been submitted upon request. These measures have proven to be extremely effective this far, and organizations should follow suit should they not already be a part of preventative cybersecurity procedures.
Ensure sensitive data is protected and HIPAA certified
Healthcare organizations store sensitive medical data that must be secured and preserved against corruption and theft. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets these standards for sensitive patient data protection, and every organization responsible for Protected Health Information (PHI) must ensure that their software solutions, infrastructure, and data layers align with HIPAA standards. Moreover, several techniques can be employed to ensure the protection against data loss, such as frequent data backups and replicating these backups across different data centers located in distinct geographical areas.
Modernize legacy IT systems and implement multiple security controls
As technology evolves rapidly, new tools, concepts, protocols, and programming languages are being created and implemented frequently. Due to such advancements, healthcare system standards continue to change, and it is important to modernize legacy IT systems to benefit from new technologies robustness, integrate advanced security measures and speed the implementation of evolving requirements. At the same time, there are no guarantees for cybersecurity tool safety in every instance. Here, defense in depth can be exercised. As a concept that entails incorporating various security controls into any given IT system, organizations will be able to mitigate challenges should a security control fail for any reason and ensure any potential threats that arise as a result are handled.
For the healthcare community, implementing comprehensive, effective, and practical cybersecurity strategies is a topmost priority along with modernizing their IT legacy systems. The technological evolution will continue to accelerate profoundly, inevitably presenting new windows of opportunity for cyberattacks and obstacles for organizations to overcome. As such, keeping pace with unfolding changes is essential, and the above measures will position them to combat the adversity of today and lay the foundations for the preventive actions of tomorrow.
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