Essential actions for your health care cybersecurity strategy


September 22, 2017

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When patients visit a health care facility, they know they’re literally putting their lives in their provider’s hands. What they might not realize is quite how vulnerable they are—not just physically but digitally, specifically when it comes to securing their personal health information and other private data. Many health care organizations are riddled with exploitable security flaws and potential entryways for hackers, making them one of the top targets for cybercriminals.

Hackers are eager to steal health care records, which will fetch a high price on the Dark Web. These systems also get hit with a high number of ransomware attacks, where attackers block access and threaten to permanently delete records unless the victim forks over some cash. The hackers distributing this code know that the health care industry will pay handsomely for the safe return of these records—and that the systems have plenty of security loopholes they can exploit.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Your organization can mitigate risk simply by updating its cybersecurity practices.

Improve security through better vendor management

Hospitals and clinics are like a lot of other industries in that they rely on outside vendors for the bulk of their software development and IT management. But using vendors like these comes with risks of its own, particularly when their security practices aren’t properly vetted. Ideally, any vendors you engage should use FIPS 140-2 compliant encryption, the government standard for data security. But for many health care CIOs and CISOs, the real challenge may be rounding up a complete list of all vendor arrangements and locating the resources to oversee them, which leads us to our next point.

Create IT security-specific budgets

Rising health care costs make life harder for everyone, including the financial departments of provider organizations. In an effort to achieve clinical priorities and ensure a realistic budget, companies often scrap the money that would be allocated to IT in favor of other objectives. For this reason, security experts recommend that health care providers designate a separate budget for current IT security needs and create a spending plan for future upgrades and improvements. That way, companies can stay on top of evolving needs to design a robust and relevant security strategy.

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Offer employee education programs

As many as 1 in every 204 health care services emails contain some type of malware virus. In fact, email is by far the largest gateway for these attacks, at least according to the Healthcare Financial Management Association. The good news is that many attempts to infect a system via email can be foiled simply by teaching employees to sniff out fishy communication. Your facility’s staff will benefit enormously from attending regular educational programs, such as those listed in the cybersecurity resources section of the American Hospital Association’s website. Courses like these train staff to look out for signs of malicious emails and social engineering, as well as how to respond to an attack on a medical device. You know what they say: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Implement good cyber-hygiene

Health care providers know that good hygiene prevents the spread of infectious disease. The same is true for your cybersecurity strategy, in which regular checkups serve as a buffer against malicious attacks. With this in mind, be sure to implement IT security best practices like regularly installing software patches and replacing unsupported software. All passwords should use multi-factor authentication, and you may want to enforce access controls on laptops to keep staff from installing applications using potentially malicious links. That’s about the security equivalent of washing your hands, though. For really advanced protection, you’ll want to invest in high-level risk prevention by hiring an external vendor to install malware analysis software or to perform regular security, event log collection, monitoring and more. In fact, the continuous analysis and support that we offer at MyITpros will make your networks and programs safer and healthier. And that means you can focus on what you’re good at: helping patients.

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