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Biggest Data Security Challenges In The Healthcare Industry

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The healthcare industry is among the most aggressive in adopting technologies and is among the most advanced industries when it comes to IoT adoption

On the other hand, the healthcare industry is by nature, a complex business ecosystem with many pieces of equipment and moving parts. Hospitals and healthcare facilities often involve international partnerships, cloud-based interconnectivity, government contracts, and so on, and often involve a massive amount of confidential data transactions (i.e. patient information).

Meaning, hospitals and the healthcare industry as a whole is a lucrative target for hackers and cybercriminals, and deserve special attention when it comes to data security and protection.

With that being said, here are some of the biggest data security in the healthcare industry, and how to protect against them

Why Cybercriminals Target The Healthcare Industry?

Simply put, the answer is valuable healthcare data. 

Patient information is very valuable among cybercriminals and bad actors and is even valued above financial data (i.e. banking information). When healthcare data is compromised, it can cause serious damages both to the healthcare facility and the patient, including and not limited to: 

  • Patient’s embarrassment due to their medical condition (cybercriminals can ask for a ransom due to this fact)
  • Cybercriminals can use healthcare data to perform identity theft and other types of frauds
  • Stolen healthcare data can be used to blackmail hospitals and other healthcare facilities since it may lead to serious legal problems and other issues

Another reason is the fact that for most healthcare providers, security is not their priority, and so it’s relatively easier for cybercriminals and attackers to hack the healthcare industry. 

1. Outdated hardware and software in healthcare facilities

Running a hospital and any healthcare facilities is certainly not cheap, and quite often the hospital owner will prioritize investing in the latest equipment and/or manpower rather than IT and security infrastructure. 

On the other hand, all software and hardware vendors simply can’t support their products forever, and older products nearing the end-of-life state are potential security challenges for this hospital. When a software solution is no longer supported and no longer receives security updates, there can be security vulnerabilities that might be exploited by hackers and cybercriminals. 

Thus, it’s crucial for hospital and healthcare facilities’ owners to consider updating their hardware and software infrastructure regularly. While it can be expensive, the cost would still be lower than dealing with an actual data breach.

Also, make sure only to use solutions from reputable vendors that also understand the importance of data security. 

With hackers often utilizing malicious bots to target vulnerabilities in healthcare software and hardware, investing in an advanced anti-bot protection solution is also important. Thus, your healthcare facility can focus on treating patients and won’t need to assign your valuable manpower to respond to cyber-attacks. 

2. Cloud computing vulnerabilities

Many healthcare facilities and hospitals are adopting various cloud-based solutions to support their services, which is understandable. These cloud services provide more cost-effective solutions for various purposes without sacrificing quality and reliability. It is expected that the global cloud computing market for healthcare alone will reach $64.7 billion by 2025, from only $28.1 billion in 2020, which is a massive growth. 

However, using these cloud services would also mean frequently sharing and receiving data over the cloud, which means potentially exposing your data to hackers during transmission. Data that is used by cloud applications is much harder to encrypt and protect, as opposed to data sitting in storage. 

Thus, hospitals must be extra careful when choosing to use cloud-based solutions and must implement adequate policies to manage how employees use these cloud solutions.

3. Human factor vulnerabilities allowing data breaches

This isn’t an issue specific to healthcare, but human errors remain the leading cause for successful data breaches in all industries. 

No matter how secure your hardware/software and security infrastructure are, your whole system will be vulnerable when an ignorant employee with enough authentication accidentally (or deliberately) has their credentials compromised to cybercriminals. Your security is only as strong as the least security-aware employee in your company.

Cybersecurity training should be a part of onboarding new employees (even experienced doctors), and regular refreshers should also be given to ensure your employees stay up-to-date and relevant to the latest signs of cyberattack vectors, phishing/social engineering attack methods, and so on. 

Finally, hospitals should also have clear security policies and regulations for both internal employees, patients, and other parties. Make sure your whole team follows healthcare data security best practices like using strong and unique passwords, implementing encryption whenever possible, and so on. 

While you can’t 100% eliminate human error, you should aim to mitigate it. It’s important to acknowledge that low-security awareness in employees can significantly increase your risks. 

4. Devices Interconnectivity

Healthcare facilities often involve a lot of interconnected devices that might be connected via LAN/Ethernet or even Wi-Fi. When devices are connected to each other via an unsecured connectivity solution (i.e. public Wi-Fi), then if a hacker finds a way to hack to one device, then the entire devices connected to this Wi-Fi will also be exposed. 

It’s common for medical equipment to connect to the hospital’s LAN or WI-Fi, and when attackers exploit, for example, older devices that are vulnerable, then they can cause considerable damage to the whole hospital system whether in the form of stealing confidential patient data or even jeopardizing settings on medical equipment which may cost lives. 

Quite recently, cybercriminals performed a ransomware attack in a German hospital, resulting in a patient’s death. Thus, make sure your hospital network is secured and all devices are interconnected securely. 

5. Too Many Partnerships

Hospitals often involve extensive third-party networks from local drugstores, other hospitals, governments, and pharmaceutical companies, among others. 

Obviously, these extensive networks and partnerships do have their perks, but will also translate into amplified security challenges: a bigger attack surface means more potential vulnerabilities. 

For example, when one of your partner’s security is compromised, then it can also expose the hospital’s security. It’s important for hospitals and healthcare providers to implement adequate third-party risk management to protect themselves from data breaches and other issues.