Why healthcare is a current target for cybersecurity attacks

Recognising the importance of cyber security within your business has been well documented in recent years, but why is the healthcare sector, focused on our care and protection, offering opportunities for cyber crime?

The healthcare sector has become increasingly susceptible to cyber attacks in recent years, which is compromising the confidentiality at the core of this industry and making day-to-day operations more difficult. The disruption caused by a cyber attack can be vast and significant, but what is it about this industry that is so appealing for cyber criminals and what can healthcare organizations do to protect themselves?

Patient data is valuable to attackers

Naturally, healthcare organisations have a wealth of private patient data available that’s worth a lot of money to hackers, who have the contacts to sell it on quickly. It’s made this industry a notable target for cyber crime, making it more important than ever that hospitals, GP surgeries and similar environments take extra precautions to protect their information. 

The penalties of neglecting this are incredibly detrimental to businesses, not only in the ransomware attacks to regain their data but in the GDPR penalties that can result from this. The cost of using protective measures, such as multi-factor authentication, is much cheaper than the cost of losing confidential data. 

Quantity of devices used makes managing security harder

As one leading cybersecurity business explains, “with the scale and sophistication of cybercrime increasing, attacks on hospitals, health trusts, GP practices and other healthcare bodies have the potential to lead to the loss of sensitive patient data and disrupt the provision of vital services. Digital transformation in the sector, including the growing adoption of IoT and interconnected technologies, is only making it more of an imperative for healthcare companies to respond proactively to the latest cyber security threats”. 

Modern organisations manage a vast network of medical devices and IT equipment, each of which is a potential target for an attacker. If even a single device becomes compromised, it could have devastating effects on the whole network and result in data breaches. Healthcare professionals need to manage their own devices and work collaboratively with IT specialists to prevent security risks, but automating protection can also help to prevent an attack. 

Devices used are an easy access point

The innovations in medical technology are obviously great news for our health and in curing diseases, but when it comes to online security, they could open up more entry points for criminal activity. From heart rate monitors to drug dispensing equipment, each device fulfils a specific role and security is unlikely to have been factored into its design, but that’s to the advantage of a cyber criminal. 

Attackers can leverage the data in these devices to launch attacks on servers or take control over the device, preventing care to patients and putting lives at risk. While these devices may not contain data themselves, they’re a link to other devices such as laptops and computer networks, which is where they pose the real risk. 

A lack of education

Another reason why the healthcare sector is a target for online attacks is that staff don’t have the education to prevent threats. Medical professionals aren’t given the training to recognise online threats or know how to mitigate them successfully, for a variety of reasons ranging from budget constraints to time and staffing issues. 

But in order to prevent cybersecurity risks in this sector, everyone working in the industry needs to be educated on best practices and know what to look for in order to avoid data breaches. Whether it’s regular team training or individual online education, it’s a real concern for healthcare organisations and something that needs to be addressed quickly to help staff spot problems and know what to look for in order to raise alerts. 

​​Remote data opens up opportunities for attack

Collaborative working is vital in this industry, and since the pandemic, the need to work remotely has also increased. Healthcare workers need to have access to information wherever they are, which may not always be at their desk, and this level of remote working can increase the risk of cyber attacks.

Connecting to a network from a remote location is always risky, since not all devices will be secured properly. If staff are also unfamiliar with even basic cybersecurity processes, a single hacked device could compromise far more. Risk-based authentication can be an effective method for combatting this, making risk analysis easier for IT professionals based on a range of factors such as the user or location. Then, if unusual activity is spotted, it will ensure that any unsafe devices won’t be able to access sensitive data.

How can healthcare providers do better?

Time-strapped businesses with limited budgets have a challenge on their hands when it comes to identifying security threats and mitigating the risks. But there are ways that businesses in this sector can protect patient data and prevent data breaches. Basic security measures such as secure passwords, limited access to devices and multi-factor authentication can all help, as well as automated software to detect and alert professionals to threats. 

Over half of data breaches in the healthcare industry are caused by insiders, whether intentionally or unintentionally, so prioritising education and a zero-trust policy can really help to reduce the number of risks medical professionals face. 

As a critical infrastructure, building resilient systems and processes is the key to preventing cyber attacks. Software and analytical tools can help to assess risks to businesses so they know where to improve and enhance, using threat models to frame risks and build effective defence strategies where it matters most. 

Knowing that healthcare organisations are a target means that decision-makers need to be continually looking for opportunities to deliver effective, stronger security controls. It’s no longer possible for any organisation to sit back where cybersecurity is concerned — it needs to be a priority, particularly in industries where so much confidential data is at risk, such as healthcare. That means educating existing employees, making training part of the onboarding process and working with reputable third parties who share the same view on the importance of strong cybersecurity measures. 

Cybersecurity protection offers a great ROI, especially when businesses consider the risks that a data breach poses. With cyber criminals targeting healthcare organisations more and more, and the penalties that will come as a result of a breach, there’s never been a better time to reassess your existing security strategy and make changes to better protect patient data, financial information and sensitive documents.

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