Cybersecurity is an increasingly important issue within the healthcare sector. With the rise of digital data and technologies, protecting sensitive information from threat actors has become critical for healthcare organisations.
The protection of medical records, patient privacy and other confidential information can have far-reaching implications for providers and patients. Healthcare data breaches are becoming increasingly costly to organisations due to stiffer regulations and fines imposed on those who fail to meet security standards.
It is essential that healthcare providers understand the risks involved in failing to secure their systems adequately and take steps to mitigate them.
This article will explore the importance of cybersecurity within this sector and discuss some of the challenges and potential solutions for healthcare.
It is fair to say that at some point in our lives, most of us – if not all – will need some sort of medical treatment or assistance provided by our healthcare facilities. Needless to say, patient personal data, information systems and healthcare technology devices that function with the internet have all become attractive targets for cyberattacks.
Data security is a critical issue in the healthcare sector, as a patient data breach can lead to devastating consequences. Poor implementation of cybersecurity measures or lack thereof can make health records and other confidential patient information vulnerable to attacks by cybercriminals.
Hackers may target informational systems to access sensitive information the healthcare industry holds. Many specialised healthcare information systems could be exploited for identity theft, insurance fraud, or simply to cause disruptions within the industry by shutting down critical systems.
Some of the information systems include the following:
- Electronic Prescription Service
- Summary Care Record
- Radiology Information System
- Electronic Health Records
- Email Systems
Data is not the only asset cybercriminals are chasing within the medical industry. Connected medical devices that utilise the IoT can be hacked, and potential consequences may create chaos within the sector, including jeopardising the well-being of the patients.
Thousands of devices could be targeted. Here is a short list.
- Smart heating
- Infusion pumps
- Smartwatches and fitness trackers
- Health monitors
- Connected inhalers
- Smart hospital beds
- Medical imaging and diagnostic devices
Therefore, organisations within the medical sector must ensure that their systems are adequately secured with advanced data protection techniques and protocols, including regular system updates, authentication layers, etc. These, in turn, promote their cybersecurity defences, ultimately helping to prevent unauthorised access to this sensitive information.
With this said, various groups of people, known as stakeholders, are associated with the healthcare industry.
Here is an overview of the roles and responsibilities of each party and how they are affected with regard to healthcare cybersecurity.
Stakeholders can be broken down into four main categories, each with their security issues which impose a duty of care to ensure appropriate measures are taken to prevent a security breach and access to sensitive information.
It is crucial for medical organisations to guarantee that their systems are adequately secured through the implementation of advanced data protection measures such as regular system updates, authentication layers and similar protocols. These entities can enhance their cybersecurity defences by preventing unauthorised access to patients’ confidential information.
Patients and healthcare providers must communicate through secure methods, ensuring that privacy and security policies are always protected. The medical industry has a duty of care to provide its clients with knowledge on how to correspond with them, primarily through digital platforms or virtual interaction.
It is crucial for workforce members within the medical industry to be familiar with the organisation’s privacy and security policies. Regular security awareness training is paramount in ensuring cybersecurity in the healthcare industry. The training aims to create an awareness of potential threats and equip employees with the necessary skills to respond to security incidents effectively.
Moreover, employees should be aware of the person or department to contact in case of any uncertainties or challenges. Every healthcare employee can offer invaluable input to the cybersecurity team by acquiring valuable knowledge and awareness. This enhances the cybersecurity team’s understanding of security dynamics, thus enabling them to create effective measures to safeguard the information technology infrastructure and any sensitive information within the sector.
It is now fairly common for the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to assume executive decisions about an organisation’s cybersecurity programme and initiatives. CISOs focus primarily on devising strategic plans, while cybersecurity team members who report to the CISO are responsible for implementing these policies in alignment with the directives given.
Functioning as a top-level executive, the CISO ideally holds the same status as other C-level executives, such as the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Information Officer. Senior leaders of healthcare organisations who demonstrate high support for cybersecurity efforts enhance company-wide acceptance and adoption of such initiatives.
Cyber supply chain attacks are ever more frequent due to the number of potential flaws within an organisation’s infrastructure. Many third parties provide and help healthcare professionals with products and services, increasing the complexities of security monitoring and tightening defences against threats and vulnerabilities. This is due to the involvement of manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers with weak security systems or policies that could be targeted with a higher success rate than the healthcare system itself.
To put it differently, the illicit acquisition of vendor credentials or the infiltration of vendor accounts poses a potential threat to the security and integrity of healthcare organisations, as cyber criminals may gain access to their technology infrastructure. With an inherent privilege extended to vendors when it comes to the IT systems of healthcare organisations, a violation or illegitimate access initiated by a third party may elevate the potential breach of healthcare technology resources on a much grander scale.
To ensure that healthcare organisations are correctly protected from cybersecurity threats, stakeholders must understand their responsibilities and be equipped with the right skills and attributes. A cybersecurity team should act as a bridge between different stakeholders, guiding best practices while helping them stay up-to-date with the current trends in security measures.
A cohesive strategy incorporating each stakeholder’s input is necessary for an organisation’s optimal protection to reduce the impact of emerging threats. It is also vital for all parties to maintain open communication to collaborate effectively when needed, ultimately building solid foundations that incorporate a robust and trusting security culture, and thus creating a secure data storage and processing environment.
There are multiple types of threats that the healthcare sector faces. Each of these uses different methods to steal data or take control of medical devices that can be held at ransom.
Here are some examples of particular threats.
Malware is among the most common types of cyber threats that healthcare institutions face. It can manifest as different types of software, such as ransomware, viruses and spyware, that can cause severe damage to computer systems if they are not detected quickly and addressed appropriately.
Ransomware is especially dangerous, as it is essentially the equivalent of taking someone hostage – though in the form of encrypting medical equipment or data. The threat actor launching such an attack takes complete control of data on the device or system, leaving them wholly inaccessible and, therefore, non-functional for the healthcare practitioners. This data can then be held at ransom until the hackers get what they want: however, as in any hostage situation, there are no guarantees that payment of the sum demanded would mean the stolen information would be restored, as reliance is based on blind faith and hope.
Assuring complete security from malware is paramount: taking control over medical instruments could result in a life-and-death situation.
Phishing is another type of cyberattack that poses a threat to healthcare organisations. It is conducted in various ways, such as via social media, texts and emails. However, these attacks all share similar traits regarding how the recipient can be manipulated.
Phishing emails are generally the most common type of attack; they usually contain suspicious attachments or links that can lead to data leaks or the installation of malware on the target system. Generally speaking, most people are aware of the dangers of suspicious emails. However, cybercriminals are becoming increasingly creative and, far too often, are successful when targeting the most vulnerable.
There are a few different methods used by attackers to be aware of:
- General Phishing – This type of scam is self-explanatory. The target audience is the general public without being specific or tailored to any particular individual. These campaigns usually need to be more creative and often arouse suspicion.
- Spear-Phishing – The prime target is aimed at a particular individual, such as a healthcare practitioner or professional. These attacks are typically more successful as they have been designed for a specific person, suggesting more thought and care has gone into their creation.
- Whaling – Similar to spear-phishing, this targets a specific individual; the difference is that it will be someone of a high stature within the business or a “big fish”. Hence the title of whaling.
A Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack is a broad term that refers to a situation where a perpetrator places themselves in the middle of a conversation between a user and an application for the purpose of either eavesdropping on or impersonating one of the parties involved. The primary objective of such an attack is to obtain personal information, such as login credentials, credit card numbers and account details.
Cybersecurity professionals within healthcare should focus on ensuring they have MitM attacks securely covered to prevent such data breaches of their patients, and comply with industry regulations.
Network vulnerability attacks such as Address Resolution Protocol (ARP), cache poisoning and HTTPS spoofing can target wired and wireless networks within the healthcare industry.
For wired networks, attackers can exploit weaknesses within unsecured servers, switches and routers, while wireless networks are targeted through WiFi and Bluetooth. As mentioned previously, the number of medical devices that rely on these network systems is immense, meaning their compromise could lead to catastrophic consequences.
The healthcare industry is increasingly aware of the importance of cybersecurity, with many organisations now putting in place best practices and security solutions to protect the sensitive information they hold. There are a multitude of approaches to mitigating risk through cybersecurity techniques.
It is advised that healthcare establishments initiate periodic risk assessments in order to pinpoint potential threats and vulnerabilities to cybersecurity and protected health information. Such an assessment should entail evaluating the safeguarding measures taken on their IT systems and network infrastructure, in addition to the security of medical devices and other technologies used during healthcare administration.
Healthcare personnel must undergo periodic training on cybersecurity protocols and attain a comprehensive understanding of the potential hazards that accompany security breaches. This training should incorporate a range of topics, including methods for identifying and addressing possible cybersecurity incidents, in addition to periodic prompts on the significance of robust passwords and data-safeguarding techniques.
It is of utmost importance that healthcare organisations have both basic and advanced security measures in place. By doing so, they can ensure a layered defence strategy where the failure of one control can be substituted by another.
Here is a list of some cybersecurity software and security controls:
- Intrusion detection and preventions system
- Encryption at rest
- Encryption in transit
- Secure disposal
- Policies and procedures
- Multi-factor authentication
- Anti-theft devices
- Web gateway
- Email gateway
Although these security measures are effective, not all breaches can be averted. This is where the practice of blocking and tackling becomes significant. An effective incident response plan is essential for cybersecurity in healthcare to promptly thwart and address any security incidents that may arise.
Healthcare establishments should create comprehensive policies for prompt and efficient handling of cases involving cybersecurity threats, with the goal of mitigating the possible repercussions on both patient welfare and sensitive data privacy. These measures must encompass stringent protocols for incident reporting, comprehensive diagnosis of root causes, and timely notification to those potentially affected, as well as to all pertinent regulatory agencies.
Healthcare entities should carry out periodic assessments and audits with regard to their security protocols for the purpose of detecting any susceptibility and ascertaining the efficacy of their cybersecurity measures. These evaluations may comprise recurrent penetration testing, vulnerability scanning and risk assessments.
As we have seen throughout this article, cyberattacks can compromise patient privacy, disrupt healthcare operations, and endanger patient safety by interfering with medical devices and systems. This demonstrates the importance of identifying and implementing comprehensive cybersecurity solutions to this ever-growing problem.
The medical industry should apply a proactive approach towards cybersecurity to monitor trends to stay ahead of these threats and prevent attacks.
By taking a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity, the healthcare industry can better protect its infrastructure and the sensitive information entrusted to it by patients.