November 27, 2023

Healthcare Cybersecurity

For the 12th consecutive year, the healthcare sector continues to bear the brunt of data breaches, with the average cost of a breach soaring to $10.1 million, marking a substantial increase of almost $1 million. These costs have surged by over 40% in the past two years, underscoring the growing urgency for robust cybersecurity measures in the medical field.

In this context, the significance of cybersecurity cannot be overstated. As healthcare professionals increasingly rely on digital systems and electronic health records, safeguarding patient data and maintaining the integrity of medical records is paramount.

Let's uncover the common cybersecurity threats you need to know and proven strategies to protect your private practice against cyber attacks.

Overview of Cybersecurity Threats

Amid an alarming surge in cyber threats, healthcare organizations worldwide faced an average of 1,463 cyberattacks per week in 2022, marking a staggering 74% increase compared to the preceding year. Meanwhile, in the United States, healthcare entities grappled with an average of 1,410 weekly cyberattacks per organization, demonstrating an 86% surge from 2021.

The Biden-Harris administration has also called on healthcare and critical infrastructure organizations to bolster their cybersecurity defenses following a recent intelligence that indicates a potential for Russian cyberattacks.

Common Healthcare Cybersecurity Threats

In today's digitally driven healthcare landscape, patient data is more accessible than ever, making it a prime target for cybercriminals. Understanding the common cybersecurity threats in healthcare is necessary and imperative to safeguard patient privacy and data integrity.

1. Online Tracking Technology Risks

Initially designed to improve user experiences and gather data for diverse applications, online tracking technologies have become a growing concern within the healthcare sector.

Notably, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have sounded the alarm over these technologies, which persistently track users even once they've left healthcare websites, potentially putting sensitive patient health information at risk of exposure to third parties. The consequences of this potential data exposure encompass data leakage, privacy breaches, and complex regulatory compliance issues.

2. EHR Vulnerabilities

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are prime targets for cyber attackers due to the valuable Protected Health Information (PHI) they store.

The HHS cyber agency has flagged several key threats:

Phishing Scams

These attacks are like cyber scams, where attackers try to trick you into revealing your login details or infect your system using deceptive emails or links.

How cyber criminals conduct phishing scams
Phishing Attacks | HHS

‎Email is a top choice for cybercriminals launching phishing campaigns. They use current events to make emails more tempting, hoping to trick recipients into clicking harmful links or downloading files with malicious code. With more people working remotely, the risk of falling for phishing emails has gone up.

Malware & Ransomware

Malware can infiltrate your systems through software vulnerabilities, downloads, or phishing, potentially resulting in data breaches and network harm.

Ransomware is malicious software that locks files, making them and related systems unusable. Attackers demand a ransom for decryption, with the added threat of selling or revealing sensitive data and authentication details if the demand isn't met. This is especially problematic in healthcare, where immediate access to patient information is crucial.

Encryption Blind Spots

Encrypted data is like a secure tunnel, but if there are blind spots, hackers can slip through undetected and launch attacks. Covering these blind spots is necessary for cybersecurity and helps with compliance.

Cloud Threats

As healthcare organizations increasingly use cloud services, protecting private data is essential while adhering to vital regulations like HIPAA.

Employee Risks

Insider threats are a genuine concern across industries, including healthcare. It's critical to enforce cybersecurity policies and strategies within every healthcare organization.

3. PACS Vulnerabilities

Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) play an invaluable role in healthcare, enabling seamless sharing and storage of patient data and medical images across hospitals, clinics, and research institutions. However, cyber attackers can easily detect PACS servers, making them vulnerable to potential data breaches and jeopardizing patient data privacy and overall system integrity. If left unpatched, these servers can expose patient records and compromise the security of connected clinical devices. Despite the awareness of these issues, unpatched PACS servers are still in use.

How to Fight Cyber Attacks? 

Cybersecurity has assumed unparalleled significance in healthcare due to a stark reality. In just the first quarter of 2023, healthcare organizations reported 145 data breaches to the U.S. government's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). These breaches jeopardize patient records and pose a grave risk to healthcare systems' integrity.

Healthcare providers can bolster their defense against cyber attacks by embracing the following best practices:

1. Robust Authentication

Enforce robust authentication measures, including multi-factor authentication (MFA), to bolster the security of patient records. MFA acts as an additional safeguard, significantly reducing the chances of unauthorized access. In contrast, inadequate authentication methods expose your network to cyber intruders, heightening the danger of disclosing critical information, such as electronic health records (EHRs).

Healthcare organizations are encouraged to implement multi-factor authentication, address known vulnerabilities, encrypt and back up data, and conduct cyberattack readiness drills. Additionally, they are encouraged to establish proactive relationships with local FBI and CISA offices to access technical resources for bolstering cybersecurity.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers guidance for implementing a robust authentication process to defend against a spectrum of cyber threats.

2. Data Security

Prioritize the security of electronic health information by implementing comprehensive encryption measures. Electronic health records (EHRs) and related equipment often arrive with inherent security features or service options, yet sometimes they're incorrectly configured or unused.

Healthcare providers are responsible for managing electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI). You must ensure that your core staff is well-acquainted with these foundational security aspects and that EHR systems receive timely updates.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers a curated list of resources to fortify EHR within your medical practice.

3. Informative Campaigns

Launch informative email campaigns incorporating infographics, images, posters, and clear, user-friendly instructions to educate your team about the evolving landscape of cyber threats. You can create these impactful email campaigns with the assistance of the email campaign instructions and images provided by HHS.

Furthermore, within its "Health Industry Cybersecurity Practices" document, HHS comprehensively addresses the five most prevalent cybersecurity threats the healthcare sector faces. This insightful resource also outlines ten critical cybersecurity practices that serve as a shield against these threats, offering healthcare organizations a robust defense strategy to safeguard their data and operations.

Medical Cybersecurity Tools and Resources

Today, the healthcare sector faces an ever-increasing challenge in protecting patient information and fortifying its cybersecurity defenses against a rising tide of cyber threats.

To address this critical concern, a wealth of tools and resources are readily available to empower healthcare professionals and organizations.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released version 3.4 of the Security Risk Assessment (SRA) Tool, tailored to assist small and medium-sized healthcare organizations in their annual security risk assessments for HIPAA compliance.
  • The Healthcare Sector Coordinating Council (HSCC) offers a one-hour "Cybersecurity for the Clinician" video series to help clinicians grasp the importance of cyber hygiene in clinical operations and patient safety.
  • HHS introduces a "Cybersecurity Framework Implementation Guide" to help healthcare organizations manage cyber risks effectively, explicitly focusing on regulatory compliance and guidance for small healthcare entities.
  • HHS's cybersecurity advisory group provides insights through a newsletter, covering topics such as cyber insurance and incident response protocols for small medical practices.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA) extends a range of cybersecurity resources for physicians, including government resources, cyber hygiene services, and legal protections related to cybersecurity technology donations.
  • HHS has launched a dedicated cybersecurity website, serving as a comprehensive resource hub for physicians and healthcare providers seeking tools and guidance to protect their computer systems from cyber threats.
  • The HHS Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center (HC3) offers supplementary resources, including threat briefs and sector alerts focusing on cyber threats related to COVID-19.
  • The AMA provides practical tips for securing patient health records and data against cyberattacks, covering diverse aspects like cybersecurity practices and a computer security checklist.

Fortify Cybersecurity with Glenwood

At Glenwood, we prioritize the security of patient data and the maintenance of rigorous regulatory compliance in our cybersecurity efforts. We recognize the paramount importance of adhering to industry standards and guidelines, encompassing HIPAA, PCI, Omnibus, MIPS, MACRA, PCMH, ACO, HIE, and many other regulatory and quality programs. Full compliance with these regulations not only guarantees the delivery of the highest-quality care to our clients but also strengthens our cybersecurity protocols.

GlaceEMR upholds the most stringent data protection standards and unwavering regulatory compliance, fostering patient trust and reinforcing their commitment to maintaining the integrity of medical records in an ever-evolving digital healthcare landscape.

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