Why Healthcare Systems Need To Prioritize Cybersecurity

Nov 24, 2021 5:30:51 PM

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Healthcare platforms are under constant threat from cyberattacks, putting patient safety at risk. This is why C-suite stakeholders, Chief Information Officers (CIO), and senior leaders of healthcare outfits need to stop viewing cybersecurity as a purely technical issue. Patient information security, enterprise integrity, and strategic priorities are all reliant on cybersecurity.

Giving cybersecurity the same level of importance as physical patient safety will help mitigate disruptions in care delivery. Cyberattacks tend to bring the entire healthcare enterprise infrastructure to a halt, leading to gross oversight in patient care. Effective delivery of high-quality healthcare dictates that these cyber disruptions be mitigated for favorable patient outcomes.

On average a hospital room could contain over 15-20 medical devices connected to the hospital's central system. While this highlights the extent of the hospital's technological prowess, it also presents a ton of security challenges. 

In this article, we discuss how cyberattacks threaten not just patient privacy and clinical outcomes, but also the hospital's financial resources. We will go on to discuss a number of ways in which cybercrime can infiltrate a healthcare organization's Electronic Health/Medical Records (EHR/EMR) platforms.

Why Cyberattacks Pose More Than Just A Threat To Patient Privacy

Most cyberattacks are targeted at exposing patients' Protected Health Information (PHI) and Personally Identifiable Information (PII). However, cybercriminals have shifted focus to more financially inclined attacks targeted towards credit card and banking information as well as intellectual property linked to medical research. 

A cybercrime research report by AHA Center for Health Innovation reveals that stolen health records have a tendency to sell about 10 times more than stolen credit card numbers on the dark web. Therefore, the primary focus for cybersecurity measures should be on protecting PHI/PII. The costs incurred in repairing cyber breaches in healthcare are almost three times more than that of other industries.

A report from Philips and CyberMDX reveals that unfortunately, more than 60% of healthcare IT expenditure is focused elsewhere, while cybersecurity gets a spend of less than 11%. This is despite many healthcare organizations having faced complete system shutdowns driven by cyberattacks. 

In the United States, healthcare information security is governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Failing to keep patient records private can lead to the issue of heavy penalties for a healthcare organization under the HIPAA's Privacy and Security Rules. This is in addition to the potential harm to the company's reputation in the healthcare community.

Vulnerabilities In Healthcare Infrastructure

High demand in the black market for patient information and outdated system infrastructure are the main reasons behind the growth in cyberattacks on healthcare systems. Another reason is the availability of several vulnerabilities in healthcare systems. Here are some of those vulnerabilities that are exploited by cybercriminals:

1)The Internet Of Medical Things

There are specific vulnerabilities in the highly innovative sphere of the Internet Of Medical Things (IoMT). The primary reason for this is the lack of requirement for strong multi-factor authentication for its use. Having the convenience of connecting with IoMT devices with an external mobile device opens it up to possible attacks. The competitive landscape of IoMT is also known for rolling out glitchy security patches. 

Cybercriminals can exploit these vulnerabilities by simply reading and understanding the release notes of these rollouts. Devices in IoMT also tend to be on the same network, making a large number of interconnected devices open to malware and cyberattacks. In addition to online cyberattacks, there is always the possibility of a criminal stumbling upon sensitive healthcare information on a stolen company laptop.

2)Remote Data Access For Staff Members

To promote collaborative working, the hospital administration provides remote access to PHI/PII for staff nurses and doctors. This is the best solution in case of emergencies when detailed patient information decides whether they live or die. However, connecting to these sensitive databases remotely opens them up to malicious attacks. Without a proper failsafe such as Risk-Based Authentication (RBA) in place, giving unrestricted remote access can devastate a healthcare organization with HIPAA penalties.

3)Apprehensions From Healthcare Workers 

Healthcare staff need to be always on-call throughout their duty shifts and are often busiest on holidays. With long hours and tight deadlines, they are too busy to take out the time to educate themselves about new technologies and levels of authentication to ensure cybersecurity. 

Adding security processes to healthcare processes might end up adding to their workload. Single Sign-On (SSO) solutions are often the go-to solution in this situation. This allows authorized users can access multiple applications using a single set of login information. This is a frictionless and secure solution.

4)Lack Of Boundaries Around Shareable Data

The shareability of data stored in a central repository of a healthcare organization is important for collaboration in patient diagnosis. But IT staff worries about this information not always being protected. Assessing the credentials of every access attempt for this information is not always feasible, especially in a time-critical environment. 

Users of the hospital system will only need privileges for the tasks in the system that they will perform. So not everybody will need to have full admin access. There needs to be proper delegation on who gets full access and a hierarchy managed further by the admin so that too many people having this access does not compromise the data.

5)High Data Volumes

Modern healthcare organizations and their respective platforms hold Yottabytes of sensitive patient data. Each bit of data acts as a potential threat for attackers and the larger the organization larger the number of vulnerable points of entry. Healthcare professionals need to be educated to some extend about managing and being responsible for the data of patients assigned to them. Careful segregation of responsibility is the only way to deal with these vulnerabilities related to patient data itself.

ALSO READ: How Third-Party EMR Integration Improves Patient Outcomes

Patient Data Should Be One Of Healthcare's Primary Priorities

Limited budgets and a hesitancy to understand new security standards and systems lead to oversight. There needs to be renewed focus from healthcare organizations towards minimizing the risk of cyberattacks. These companies must set aside dedicated effort and budgets for adding extra layers of security to protect pivotal healthcare data.

To help keep on top of new technologies to aid in your healthcare workflow, you can learn about our Custom Practice Management Solutions.

Topics: Healthcare

Allen Victor

Written by Allen Victor

Writes content around viral technologies and strives to make them accessible for the layman. Follow his simplistic thought pieces that focus on software solutions for industry-specific pressure points.