Cyberattacks are a common threat to many industries, especially those that deal with sensitive information and data. The healthcare industry in particular faces some of the most cybersecurity challenges of any industry. Healthcare is a crucial aspect of the modern world, so there is an increasing demand for effective cyberattack prevention.

Learn more about what makes healthcare vulnerable to cyberattacks and the most common cybersecurity challenges within the industry.

Why Is Healthcare Vulnerable to Cyberattacks?

This vulnerability stems from the high amounts of valuable information associated with the industry. Cyber thieves find a wide range of information valuable here, including patients’ protected health information (PHI), bank accounts, credit cards and personally-identifying information (PII) like social security numbers, addresses and phone numbers. Cyber thieves may also target medical innovations and research.

This information and data offer monetary and intellectual value to bad actors. Cyber thieves can sell healthcare information on the dark web for significantly more than standard stolen information like credit card numbers. The abundance of sensitive information makes the industry a desirable target. Unfortunately, the healthcare industry is also an easy target because of the increased use of wireless technologies and networked systems.

Cyberattacks are becoming increasingly modern and advanced while healthcare organizations fall behind in making the necessary infrastructure upgrades to maintain adequate cybersecurity. There are numerous reasons the healthcare industry falls victim to so many cyberattacks, though most of them boil down to inadequate healthcare cybersecurity.

While cybersecurity attacks are a huge issue for any industry and organization, they’re extremely detrimental to healthcare organizations, often resulting in the inability to provide effective patient care. From jeopardized medical devices to altered patient data, cyberattacks have the potential to dangerously affect patient health.

Top 10 Threats to Healthcare Security

As an organization within the healthcare industry, it’s vital to understand the threats you face. Understanding the most common challenges helps you keep an eye out for attacks and more effectively protect your organization. Here are the top cybersecurity challenges in the healthcare industry:

1. Insecure Medical Devices and Equipment

A significant part of healthcare’s cybersecurity problem is insecure medical devices and equipment. Medical devices and equipment include anything used to diagnose and treat patients. This may range from electronic health records (EHR) and software to physical computers and lab equipment. Many of these devices are connected, which means there’s a slew of information and data stored on the equipment.

These devices are too often left unsecured or inadequately secured, creating space for cyber attackers to jeopardize the equipment. Medical devices and equipment should be protected properly, locked in restricted access rooms or requiring a password for every sign-on. Unfortunately, many hospitals and healthcare organizations overlook this aspect of cybersecurity or fail to put proper significance on it. As a result, attackers can access sensitive information and take control of equipment.

2. Data Breaches

Data breaches are one of the most costly threats to the healthcare industry. In 2021, the average healthcare data breach cost $9.23 million. When a data breach occurs, sensitive information is stolen, leaked or disclosed to unauthorized individuals. Most often in healthcare, data breaches involve patient information.

There are security regulations regarding sensitive patient information outlined in sources like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or General Data Protection Requirements (GDPR). However, some organizations fail to strictly comply with HIPAA or GDPR guidelines, leaving their infrastructure vulnerable to attackers.

Numerous data breaches are connected to insecure devices and equipment. Because many aren’t properly managed and monitored, they’re easily breached. Another reason data breaches are relatively common is that organizations need to encrypt patient data better. More effective encryption prevents attackers from deciphering the information if they gain access to the data.

3. Ransomware and Malware

Malware is viciously designed software intended to damage, disrupt or gain unauthorized access to computers and devices. Ransomware is a high-risk type of malware in which attackers steal data or information from a system, encrypt it and demand ransom to it have it returned decrypted. Some organizations get scammed to a larger extent, paying the ransom without ever receiving the decryption key.

Some computers and medical devices may be exposed to ransomware through phishing mail, infected links and trojan viruses. Ransomware attacks have been rising over the past few years, making them one of the most dangerous cyberattacks the healthcare industry faces.

4. Vulnerable Legacy Systems

Several healthcare organizations still use legacy operating systems. Legacy systems are outdated and incapable of protecting IT infrastructure from modern-day attacks. While some organizations haven’t upgraded because of budget, others won’t out of carelessness or hesitation to make changes. Many healthcare organizations are set in their ways, leaving backdoors wide open for attackers.

Healthcare organizations can greatly benefit from modernized IT infrastructure and cybersecurity. Modernizing is crucial to keeping up with new threats, viruses, malware and other cybersecurity attacks. High-quality cybersecurity systems allow hospitals to remain compliant with privacy regulations while effectively providing protection, as they’re equipped with upgraded security measures that legacy systems can’t handle.

5. Insider Threats

When maintaining healthcare cybersecurity, it’s vital to avoid overlooking insider threats. Unfortunately, insider threats are common. A typical example involves disgruntled employees, often of privileged-level access, stealing sensitive data or disrupting networks. These individuals can pull off insider attacks because they have authorized access to sensitive information. With authorized access, they can avoid setting off red flags when accessing the data.

In other cases, lower-level employees may use privileged-level employees to get to the data, steal access cards and passwords or otherwise hack their way to sensitive information. Privileged access should only be given to the most well-trusted employees, and even then, keeping these individuals in check is a necessity.

6. Cloud-Based Threats

More and more healthcare organizations are utilizing cloud-based storage, security and management systems. Cloud models have become popular because they enable users to access data from anywhere at any time. This availability is beneficial for various reasons, including the ease of access and reduced in-house processes. While cloud-based technologies are extremely beneficial for the healthcare industry, there is cause for concern surrounding cloud models.

With such increased availability and ease of access, more users can reach servers, networks and websites. The more people accessing a centralized server, the higher the chances of a cyberattack. Another area of concern revolves around HIPAA or GDRP compliance. Some cloud-based providers aren’t equipped to meet these regulations, which can set organizations up for increased risk. If you’re using cloud services, be sure to use a reputable provider like Optimal IdM.

7. Phishing and Other Scammers

Phishing is a common form of scamming that healthcare professionals are likely to encounter. These scams attempt to mislead users to reveal personal information or passwords the attacker can then use.

Phishing links are most often sent straight to your inbox in a convincing email, like a link to reset your password. Phishing links are engineered pages, sending the information straight to the attacker. This gives attackers direct access to account information, which is then used to access sensitive data and other information.

8. Lack of Documentation

Another challenge healthcare organizations face is a lack of documentation regarding cybersecurity rules and policies. Many organizations don’t take the time to create and document procedures, which results in a weak infrastructure. Setting up procedures and recording actions taken toward cybersecurity helps create a more robust infrastructure down the line.

It’s also recommended to keep copies of old policies, security testing and completed activities to track progress and learn from past attacks and mistakes. Documentation helps your organization refine its cybersecurity measures.

9. DDoS Attacks

When a system is hit with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, the network or website is flooded with internet traffic to disrupt performance and availability, ultimately making it inaccessible to users. DDoS attacks come from multiple sources, bringing the server down with an unmanageable number of requests.

While DDoS can be used to keep sites down for long periods, ensuing panic and causing damage, these attacks are also often paired with ransomware to create a destructive combination. These attacks have detrimental effects on healthcare organizations because they can’t afford to be unavailable.

10. Lack of Cybersecurity Awareness

The general lack of cybersecurity awareness across the healthcare industry also contributes to its vulnerability. Everyone in an organization should be kept up-to-date on rules, regulations, organization-wide policies and how to protect data. Without the proper knowledge, attackers can easily slip past users undetected. For example, weak passwords and IDs are easy to guess and ultimately let attackers right in.

Many healthcare professionals also can’t recognize the warning signs of an attack like malware or phishing attempts, leaving them highly susceptible as easy targets.

How to Prevent Cyberattacks in the Healthcare Industry

Despite the vulnerability most healthcare organizations face, there are ways to help prevent cyberattacks. Here are a few tips you can use to combat healthcare’s huge cybersecurity problem:

1. Educate Your Staff

Cyberattacks are typically unexpected, which means your employees need to be prepared for the worst. One of the best things you can do is ensure your staff is educated on cyberattacks and your policies regarding what to do when an attack occurs. As mentioned above, lack of awareness is a significant issue, and staff education is the most effective remedy.

While your staff must be aware of your organization’s policies, you may also want to start by teaching them how to recognize the warning signs of a cyberattack. For example, help your employees identify the differences between phishing attempts and legitimate websites. When your employees know what to look for, you’ll increase your chances of catching a cyberattack before it’s completely successful.

2. Install Anti-Virus Software

At the very least, your organization should utilize anti-virus software. This software helps protect computers and devices from attacks and viruses that may have already made their way into the system. When paired with a firewall that helps prevent attackers from getting to the system in the first place, your computers and devices will be more effectively protected.

Most modern anti-virus software is equipped with the necessary tools to fight off modern threats and notify you when there are issues. Anti-virus software also regularly updates to provide continuous protection. Depending on the software, updates may even be automatic, which saves you time and effort. Many big-name operating systems even come equipped with anti-virus software, though solutions can always be added at any point to existing systems.

3. Limit Network Access

Many cybersecurity threats stem from attackers gaining unauthorized access to the organization’s network. Keeping your network access limited to authorized devices and users is crucial. External devices should be prohibited from connecting to the network under any circumstances. Keep your network secure and encrypted to deter unwanted connections.

You should also limit access levels within the organization. For example, keep patient files accessible to only the necessary doctors and nurses. Just because an individual works for your organization doesn’t mean they should have access to sensitive information. Strictly limit which employees can access what data to limit the risk exposure.

Some healthcare organizations use peer-to-peer sharing applications to encourage collaboration, which is a huge aspect of the healthcare industry. However, you must limit how these applications are used, what types of files and information can be shared with certain people and even who can share information. These sharing platforms can expose your network to serious threats.

4. Use a Robust IAM Platform

Identity and access management (IAM) platforms are an effective foundation for cybersecurity healthcare. IAM platforms allow you to control who has access to certain software, applications, files, PHI and other sensitive data. IAMs also help prevent information from accidentally getting leaked or shared with the wrong people.

Robust IAM platforms often provide features like:

  • Single sign-on
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Virtual identity server
  • User management system
  • Active directory federation services

IAM can provide an effective solution to numerous potential healthcare industry threats, making it a great starting point for organizations to build off of. In addition to improving security, IAMs can create a more efficient user experience, helping your employees do their jobs effectively and securely. IAM solutions can also work with in-house, cloud-based or hybrid data environments, making it a versatile option for many organizations.

Start an IAM Solution With Optimal IdM

While there are several ways you can work to combat cybersecurity challenges, one of the most effective ways is Optimal IdM solutions like IAM.

IAM solutions from Optimal IdM offer various security services to enhance your cybersecurity efforts. We’ll work with you to create a custom authentication solution for your specific needs. Our IAM software uses centralized information to reduce the number of locations you store identifying data, keeping you more organized, secure and compliant. You’ll also increase efficiency and security with fewer cybersecurity attacks and challenges.

Contact our team to learn more about how we can help you create an effective IAM solution.


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