Cybercrime keeps running rampant, targeting individuals and critical infrastructure alike. According to the latest FBI’s IC3 report, phishing, personal data breach, and extortion have been the most common cybercrime types over the last five years.
Hackers target confidential data because they profit from selling it. In 2022, the FBI registered a daunting amount of losses caused to US citizens and businesses by cybercrime activities: $10.3 billion. To put this in perspective, this sum was about 3.5 times lower in 2018 – $2.7 billion. Even more, in 2021, the losses were $6.8 billion, meaning they have grown by one-third over a year.
Source: The IC3 report 2022
According to the same report, the healthcare industry is the most common victim of cyber attacks. This industry has the perfect combination of valuable data and glaring security issues making it a gold mine for hackers. So why do healthcare institutions lose data (and money), despite strict security regulations, HIPAA guidelines, and other government-enforced measures? Let’s find out.
Why is Cybersecurity Important in Healthcare?
There are several reasons why there are so many cybersecurity threats in healthcare. Any confidential data can be used as leverage or for many criminal purposes, like extortion, identity theft, fraud, and much more. That is why such information is highly lucrative and draws a lot of hackers’ attention.
The healthcare industry deals with an enormous amount of private data on a daily basis. Digital technologies brought many benefits to the workflow in hospitals, most notably reducing the paperwork and organizing health records. Unfortunately, the same technologies created a lot of cybersecurity issues in healthcare. They allow criminals to steal and tamper with health-related data while keeping a low profile in a remote location, possibly from the other side of the world.
So, the healthcare industry had to acknowledge the vital role of cybersecurity and implement numerous measures to predict and fend off attacks. The government introduces and enforces many security regulations and standards that are mandatory. On their part, healthcare service providers usually implement additional security measures to further protect their businesses, clients, and related data.
Every data leak that occurs in a medical institution is a potential collective lawsuit from hundreds or thousands of patients. Such a lawsuit may ruin the reputation of the healthcare service provider and can easily destroy its future as a business enterprise. It also involves a huge fine which can be the final blow to the healthcare organization since many clinics and hospitals are already poorly funded.
So, healthcare cybersecurity threats target persons and businesses, bringing potential reputational and financial damage. On a larger scale, they can also disrupt the workflows in one of the most vital systems of a state: the public health system. From this perspective, considering the utmost importance of the problem, developing effective solutions to healthcare cybersecurity challenges is a matter of national security.
Top 3 Cybersecurity Issues in Healthcare Industry
There are dozens of security threat types. However, there are three main reasons why cyber attacks are successful.
1. Outdated Computer Systems
Though some people prefer the term “legacy systems,” they are just sugarcoating the problem. Due to budget cuts, some hospitals have to use decade-old computer equipment and software.
First, it’s ineffective in terms of performance and power efficiency. More importantly, its creators abandon old software after it reaches the “lifetime” threshold. For instance, about 15% of computers worldwide used Windows 7 and 8 during 2022, which has recently dropped to about 4%. This is despite those systems having had no security updates since January 2020 (or January 2023, in the case of the Extended Security Updates program).
The “it's old, but it works” attitude is a massive threat to cybersecurity, especially in healthcare. Eventually, you have to part with some money for upgrades and new computers. Recycle old junk.
2. Phishing Attacks Are Getting More Sophisticated
The worst part is that attacks are getting smarter, but people remain the same. One of the main threats to healthcare cybersecurity is the human factor.
Even after graduation, doctors must continue learning about new threats, cures, and practices. Sadly, the same approach is not as common in cybersecurity in healthcare. Every healthcare worker who has access to patients’ confidential information can become a potential intermediary for a data breach. Lack of security awareness, understaffing, and budget cuts are the weak points that ensure the success of hacker attacks.
Hackers constantly improve their methods and use new technologies. One of the most recent examples is using artificial intelligence to enhance their tools. For example, it can easily create compelling texts for phishing and other scams. Modern AI chatbots lack many basic security kill switches. The lack of control over AI and its potential use to assist criminal activities has raised much concern. It was expressed in the recent open letter signed by prominent digital technology scientists and entrepreneurs.
3. The Growing Scale of Botnets and Ransomware
Modern botnets amass enough technical capabilities to execute DDoS attacks. Besides, botnets distribute malware that leads to data breaches and further expands them.
During the COVID pandemic, massive hacker attacks targeted research facilities, vaccine manufacturers, hospitals, and even the World Health Organization and the HHS. Some of those attacks were successful and led to drastic results. Data was stolen or lost, surgeries were postponed, hospital operations were compromised, and many lives were endangered.
According to the IC3 report, in 2022, Healthcare and Public Health infrastructure was the primary victim of ransomware. Another FBI report highlights massive attacks on healthcare payment processors in the same year. There is enough evidence to believe that the situation will remain grim with a slim chance of improvement.
How to Overcome the Main Challenges in Healthcare Cybersecurity?
Is there anything we can do about healthcare cybersecurity challenges? Yes, but the necessary measures require a lot of money and effort.
Even if your old computers and servers are still in operating state, it does not mean they remain effective. At some point, equipment is no longer able to meet the growing requirements of security software. Get hardware that supports modern security protocols, encryption methods, etc. Not only will you reach a higher level of security, but also you will get a much more energy-effective infrastructure. This way, a higher performance-per-Watt ratio of modern equipment will save you money, so you will be able to improve your business, including its security, even further.
The same principle applies to software products implemented in healthcare computer systems. Old versions of anti-viruses, firewalls, antimalware, and other security solutions are usually discontinued and no longer updated by their creators. In fact, this leads to one of the most common and dangerous cybersecurity threats in healthcare. You have the illusion of being protected, but your systems have no real protection because old security software cannot deal with modern types of attacks. Buy new licenses and enforce automatic updates. No product is perfect, so let developers patch their software.
Employees have to learn how to handle new hardware and software. But they must also learn how to detect and ward off potential threats. Minimizing the impact of a human factor is essential for fighting cybercrime. These days, learning “digital hygiene” is as essential as learning basic health and safety rules. Trained personnel who know how to avoid and respond to most common computer-related threats, such as unsafe passwords or phishing emails, are vital not only to healthcare cybersecurity but to all industries that have integrated digital technologies into their workflows.
Implement Constant Security Monitoring and Regular Checkups
Usually, modern healthcare institutions have a complex computer infrastructure with dozens of workstations and at least one server located on-site or in the cloud. These numbers may vary for small clinics or large hospitals, but the essence remains the same: a computer system with all its components requires a lot of setup and maintenance to remain fully functional and secure. Depending on the scale, you will need one or a few system administrators and digital security specialists to monitor and protect your computer network. They should also select the best-fit antivirus, data backup, and system monitor software for your business based on your system specifications and other key factors.
Enforce Multi-Factor Authentication
Various levels of access, permission rules, and authentication are the staples of digital safety, including healthcare cybersecurity. They are crucial for remote operations but are also essential for on-site work. Multi-factor authentication is a relatively simple but effective defense mechanism. Do not neglect it. Restricting access to your computer network from outside is another commonly used method of securing data. Also, assigning different access levels to workers depending on their positions and duties in a company is an excellent measure that has proven its effectiveness in preventing data loss and other security threats.
Enable Encryption of Confidential Data
Patients’ files and login credentials are often kept in plain text form. Avoid it. You should implement encryption protocols to secure data during storage and communication. This way, even if hackers manage to steal information, it will be nearly impossible to decrypt it in the foreseeable future, even with state-of-the-art tools. Even if hackers have the determination and resources to crack properly protected information, it will likely become outdated and worthless by that time.
Adjust Network Infrastructure
Adopt the modular structure to minimize the losses. When one compartment is compromised in a submarine, it is shut off, but the boat remains operational. The same principle may be adjusted to a computer network in a healthcare institution. If one module or segment fails, the rest must keep working. This approach ensures the uninterrupted operation of computer systems in emergency situations, which is vital for healthcare cybersecurity.
This is the crucial step that ensures the effectiveness of all the aforementioned steps. You need the experience and skills of professionals to deal with the current and future healthcare cybersecurity challenges. That’s why you should hire a team of experts who will consult you, analyze your needs, develop an efficient healthcare cybersecurity solution, and integrate it seamlessly into your business infrastructure.
For example, Intellectsoft has a team of skilled specialists experienced in creating and implementing advanced healthcare IT solutions. We can provide you with a full range of consulting and software development services to protect your business against cybersecurity threats in healthcare.
The list can go on and on. Those steps are just the basics. Cybercriminals are raking in billions of dollars every year, so they will not give up any time soon. It’s up to us to protect our private information and defend critical infrastructure. And since most attacks are focused on the healthcare sector, it needs extra defensive measures and fast.
Only three healthcare cybersecurity challenges in 2023 may seem like not much, but any of them can cause irreversible damage to medical institutions, their medical staff, and, most important – patients. The growing scale of ransomware and botnets, together with AI-empowered and more sophisticated phishing schemes, require extra effort and quality from your entire digital infrastructure. Outdated legacy systems are more fragile compared to modern ones with blockchain-driven and microservice-based architecture. This is why your upgraded equipment should go hand-in-hand with updated healthcare software.
To make sure these cybersecurity challenges won’t interfere with your business and your patients, you need to make sure that all specialists creating or upgrading your software are reliable professionals.
Being a software development provider since 2007, we have built from scratch and upgraded dozens of healthcare systems and ecosystems of different types and complexity – MVP, ERP, CRM, patient portals, and many others. As a company with 15+ years of solid experience in the field of providing digital solutions for businesses, from startups to enterprises, we understand the importance of solid healthcare cybersecurity and the intensity of the consequences a minor data breach may cause to the client’s reputation.
We guarantee the highest quality of every finished project, and the fact that we have many recurring clients supports this statement. So, if you’re looking for a reliable team of professionals who will help you eliminate or overcome healthcare cybersecurity challenges, you’ve found it. Just get in touch with us and tell us what your business needs so that we can offer you the most effective and secure solution.
I own a small clinic. Why should I spend my budget on cybersecurity?
If you want to avoid data leaks and subsequent lawsuits and fines, we recommend implementing at least a set of basic healthcare cybersecurity measures. Some hackers prefer attacking small companies because they are much easier targets than huge enterprises. And don’t forget that even the smallest healthcare business should follow the legal regulations regarding personal data. In other words, to run a business in the healthcare industry, it must be HIPAA-compliant in the USA, GDPR-compliant in the EU, PIPEDA-compliant in Canada, and so on.
How to improve cybersecurity in healthcare in a cost-efficient manner?
It depends on the size of your business and how lucrative your data may be for hackers. If you are a small healthcare service provider, start with a basic set of measures to fend off the most common types of attacks. Then build up your security as your profits grow, and you have more budget to spend. This approach will allow you to create an all-around defense and then enhance it by implementing more advanced solutions.
There are too many steps to overcome security challenges. Which one is the most effective?
All of them are effective in combination. If you implement a single step from the list, it won't be enough. The key to effective healthcare cybersecurity is to integrate all those steps in your business and make them work in unison. For this, you will need a team to analyze your business, design and build a software solution, implement it, and, optionally, perform post-release maintenance and staff training.
OK, I want to implement a healthcare cybersecurity solution in my healthcare business. How do I start?
You should start by contacting our managers. Here, at Intellectsoft, our experienced specialists will consult you, analyze your business, and suggest a custom software solution. When you discuss and finalize all the details, our development team will design, build, test, and deliver the final product with comprehensive documentation.