Why Healthcare is such a big Target in Cybersecurity

Healthcare is a very specific industry that houses and organizes a large number of personal data to conduct operations. In the current digital day and age, many things are controlled over the internet. Healthcare organizations deal with highly sensitive information on a daily basis. They have to face challenges over compliance issues and the tightening of security regulations and more. However, the biggest challenge they face stems out in the form of cyber security issues. They are also constantly combatting increased cyber risks and adapting to digital transformation. Rise of healthcare data breach costs 2020 to 2021 were $7.13M to $9.23M  (29.5%) according to IBM’s latest data breach report on costs and damages. 

The Current Field of Healthcare 

Healthcare in the current world is very dynamic. Incredible amounts of merger, consolidation, acquisition, and partnerships are transforming how hospitals use to function. Not to mention, the onset of pandemic has sprung about an emergent demand for telehealth and telemedicine services. This led hospitals to participate in networks and ACOs. An ACO is short for accountable care organizations. This organization provides care that helps cut the cost of healthcare providers and patients, by encouraging collaborative efforts towards healthcare. 

Hospitals reinvented their data management units and integrated more compatible technologies to their procedures. Virtualization, interoperable standards, cloud migration and other methodologies helped the medical industry to provide efficient healthcare services even in remote settings. However, despite the fruits of digitalizing, being reliant on a web interface exposes you to newly emerging cyber attacks and data breach threats. 

Healthcare Changes driven By Rapid Technological Advancements

The healthcare sector is vulnerable to cyber attacks for many reasons. Healthcare is changing and new technologies and methods are developing to improve the physician and patient experience. Patients today have access to sensor-installed wearables that allow them to track their health and instantly send information to the physical. 

Thanks to technologies such as this, patients are demanding more individualized and personalized care. Other technological improvements are occurring in the data management software units. Health information exchanges are becoming highly efficient in exchanging data between organizations that are not related to one another. 

In this age of digital transformation and influence, the healthcare industry is facing the pressures of rapid change. The sector is struggling to cope with the risks of evolving cyber attacks in the midst of such a massive change. 

Healthcare is Complex 

Part of the problem with cyber attacks is that healthcare systems are very complex. Personal health records, online health communities, E-prescribing, Electronic Health Records (EHR), and other data storage and exchange units are at work 

Physicians, moderators and patients are sharing sensitive data within an array of technologies. Each time that they share this information, a cyber risk will be associated with it. Therefore, it is incredibly important for healthcare institutions to have something in place to prevent the hackers from gaining access to valuable data. 

Why are Hospitals Targets?

Hospitals are clear targets and Cyber-attacks on healthcare facilities are increasing. Hospitals and other healthcare enterprises generate large volumes of sensitive data. Large amounts of sensitive data are a treasure trove for hackers that are scavenging on every opportunity for a breach.  They are also well-funded organizations that generate a significant amount of revenue. All of these factors combine to make Hospitals inevitable targets for hackers.

High Value Data 

One of the key datasets for hospitals such as patient medical records can sell for up to $1000 each on the dark web.  The reason why patient records are so valuable is because they contain a range of different information that hackers can manipulate for their own profit. For instance, they contain things like date-of-birth, credit card information, addresses, social security numbers, emails, potentially embarrassing medical details, and more.  

A statistic that is worth noting is that more than 88% of healthcare manufacturers have faced damages due to malware. This malicious software is coded with the intent of stealing data and damaging devices. Moreover, 96% of ransomware attacks are directly aimed at the healthcare industry. These numbers are huge and show the picture of the devastation that malware can cause. 

Ransomware attack is a form of malware that holds important data at ransom and asks organizations to pay money usually through an untraceable medium if they wish to recover the data. Until they do not pay the demanded amount, the data stays corrupted. 

Ransomware is one of the most common types of malware attacks. In today’s age, it is very easy to conduct a malware attack since perpetrators can find services that allow them to purchase ransomware as a subscription model. 

Due to the high number of ransomware attacks, IT managers and healthcare professionals are now realizing that implementing data security techniques is much cheaper than paying high amounts of ransom in the occurrence of an attack. 

Remote Access 

Collaborative work is essential in the healthcare industry. Each unit needs to work cohesively to ensure that the patient enjoys the best possible solution and care. This collaborative work model needs to move forth regardless of the time and location of staff members. The digital innovation of work has enabled physicians to diagnose and provide treatment from all corners of the world due to high-end remote access. 

However, despite remote access availability being a major pro in the evolution of the healthcare system, it also has its fair share of cons. One of the biggest setbacks has to do with the introduction to new foreign devices, along with the interaction to new open source networks. The devices healthcare staff uses to access data remotely usually do not have the same level of security protocol installed as the devices that are available on-premise

Therefore, these devices work as great access points for the hackers. This is a problem that emerges due to high dependability on IoT devices, (internet of things). Additionally, healthcare staff that operate these devices remotely do not have the knowledge and expertise of identifying threats and applying cyber security practices.   

Even if a single device gets compromised, the entire organization may have to suffer. One of the key solutions for this problem takes shape in the form of risk-based authentication. This solution involves the help of IT staff members. They set up policies and risk standards for each user according to their experience, device, and the network they use. 

Another solution to this problem is that healthcare facility’s IT management team install a uniform and moderated network to all the staff members that work remotely. By taking this safety measure, any malicious activity will come under the lens of the IT moderator, and will be flagged. 

Weak Passwords  

Any time there is a big social catastrophe, the hackers will speed up their malicious activities to leverage from any weaknesses they can find. In the case of Coronavirus, the hackers are initiating password spraying campaigns as part of their cyber operations. 

Password spraying refers to a simple tactic that you can also call a brute force attack. In this type of attack, the hackers try to gain access to the organization’s systems by testing out a small number of commonly used passwords on a large number of accounts. 

In this attack, hackers utilized the assumption that there is likely to be at least one common password that a number of these people have. This is another reason why you need to educate employees about creating unique and strong passwords. 

This tells you that healthcare is unprepared in terms of cyber security, and the staff needs to be educated about setting stronger passwords. Another unfortunate stat that comes forth is the amount of time healthcare takes in identifying data breach. 

Lack of Employee Awareness 

When it comes to healthcare data breaches, employees are more often responsible, even if their mistakes are unintentional. This also involves stolen devices. The only thing that can prevent employee mistakes is education. You have to make sure that the workers have strong passwords and they need to be careful of their devices. 

Multiple Device Usage 

Your network is only as good as the weakest link. In healthcare, there are plenty of devices. Despite the fact that these devices help make the healthcare system more effective, they are also often responsible for the data breach. For instance, a typical operating room will have many different devices. These devices will have their individual IP address. 

Any device with an IP address is potentially a device that a cyber criminal can hack. Anything from patient monitoring devices, timing devices, oxygen devices, X-ray tech and more, are all potential access points for a hacker. The scariest part is that the researchers found that there were close to 50,000 malicious events and 723 malicious sources IP addresses were capable of compromising devices. 

All of this means that hackers can get access to an IP address on a device. As soon as they get access, they will have easy entry into the hospital’s network in most cases. Even if they will not gain access to the hospital’s network through the devices, they will bare minimum cause destruction to these devices. Since every device in the operating room today has an IP address, hackers find hospitals the best targets to carry out a cyber attack. 

Not to mention, these devices are often connected to one another by a network. This is what makes them a bridge to the healthcare facility’s main operating system. Healthcare staff have plenty on their plate in terms of running a hospital and treating patients. This is why employees will often turn a blind eye on cyber security and leave their systems open for attack. 

This is why there is a growing need for healthcare professionals to understand how to protect devices and how to operate them in the safest ways possible. Due to these interconnected devices and shareable services, all departments within a healthcare facility are vulnerable. None of the sector is immune to hackers. 

Outdated Technology 

Despite the modern advancements in healthcare technology, not all of the healthcare facilities are quick to adopt them. Limited budgets, paired with the unwillingness of the medical staff to adapt to new technologies have kept advancements at bay for most hospitals. This means that some hospitals are still relying on old technologies and previous versions of the data management system.  

Cyber attacks and threats are an evolving source that outdated patient data management systems and softwares cannot fight against. Upgrading to newer systems also means that you are equipping your network with the latest protection units that are capable of encountering and protecting against the upgraded cyber attacks. 

If hospitals are not too keen on upgrading external hardware, then they should at least update software to keep things secure. However, there is a limit to updates on a particular system. Medical staff will usually not change their traditional procedures and shift to a completely new system for data protection. Therefore, the second best option for a medical facility in this instance is to install additional layers of security. 

An additional layer of protection secures the lateral penetration of data breach, safeguarding the other entry points if one system is compromised. To integrate additional layers to the system, it is incredibly important for healthcare facilities to allocate a portion of their budget to healthcare facilities. 

Important to Note 

Cyber criminals are very devious and they recognize two critical factors. The first is that healthcare institutions manage lucrative patient data. The second thing is that healthcare organizations do not focus on sophisticated attacks or integrate security methods that are capable of handling such attacks. 

The average time of detecting an attack is also very long. Therefore, the first thing the healthcare industry needs to do is establish a cyber security culture. Ongoing training and education must emphasize cyber security measures to every member of the medical facility. 

Every member of the team should be responsible for knowing what to do and what not to do to avoid cyber security threats and keep their records safe. The second measure involves the protection of the different devices because an increasing number of healthcare providers are now relying on multiple devices and technologies to enhance their practice. 

Final Thoughts 

Encryption and other protective methods are now critical for the healthcare industry as practices and diagnoses move towards digital platforms. New employees that are coming onboard need to be trained on the best computer practice usage. Only with training, compatibility, and adoption will healthcare services be able to cope with cyber threats. Otherwise, it is not a matter of if they will undergo data breach, but when they will experience data breach. 




About the Author

About this Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *