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The Data Privacy and Security Challenge Healthcare Technology Must Confront

Today's digital world faces data security challenges like never before. The ever-increasing number of cyberattacks in recent years has made cybersecurity the top priority for enterprises in 2021.

Cyberattacks are often aimed at accessing sensitive user data to use it for extorting money, exploiting vulnerabilities, or interrupting businesses.

The healthcare industry has always been an attractive target for attackers due to the nature of the data it handles. The growth of online healthcare services, wearable devices, and web-based healthcare applications has introduced new challenges for healthcare providers like managing and securing large volumes of patient data.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a shot in the arm of online healthcare services like telehealth. A survey report by McKinsey suggests that about 76% of survey respondents are now interested in using telehealth services going forward, to avoid exposure to COVID-19.

Moreover, there has been increased adoption of electronic record-keeping in the form of electronic health records (EHRs). These EHRs contain a host of sensitive information about patients, making them highly valuable for cybercriminals. Data like patient history, payment details, addresses, insurance information, etc. are highly vulnerable to digital threat.

Because of the sensitive nature of data they handle, healthcare providers and IT professionals working in the healthcare sector must continually address security issues to comply with the security rules outlined in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

In this article, let's look at the various data privacy and security challenges that healthcare providers must confront.

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Lack of cybersecurity awareness

A big reason why so many cyberattacks occur in healthcare is because of a lack of cybersecurity awareness among caregivers. The healthcare workers often see data security as an issue for the IT department only. This mindset among employees is a big reason why healthcare providers fail to build a culture of security.

Lack of cybersecurity awareness can also make healthcare workers the weakest security links which the hackers often target.

As per research, healthcare is one of the most targeted sectors globally because of inherent weaknesses in its security posture. The following two reasons make the healthcare sector an attractive target for cyberattacks -

  • Rich source of valuable data
  • Soft target

Outdated hardware and software

According to a survey by E&Y, healthcare lags behind other industries in introducing digital technologies. The Healthcare sector, historically, has been a slow adopter of such technology.

Medical equipment is very expensive. Hence, it often becomes difficult for healthcare providers to allocated resources to get the latest equipment in other operational areas. Hospitals, especially, are left using computing equipment that may be decades old. The same stands true for outdated software systems. This opens the doors for malicious actors. The infamous WannaCry ransomware attack was because of a known vulnerability associated with older versions of Windows.

That shows why it is important for the healthcare sector to use modern software and equipment along with installing frequent updates to keep the system secure from cybercrimes.

Phishing campaigns

The Healthcare sector is particularly prone to phishing campaigns. As per HIPAA, about 60% of data breaches in the healthcare industry involve email phishing.

Cybercriminals use sophisticated phishing campaigns to intercept private data. These cybercriminals even send emails through official-looking addresses that easily fool workers in healthcare facilities.

The Healthcare sector also receives higher email traffic than many other sectors since they regularly collaborate with other healthcare providers, patients, equipment providers, or drug suppliers.

Some sophisticated phishing campaigns that impact the healthcare sector include –

  • Hackers disguise their emails as sent from the company's email service. Then, if a user clicks on the malicious link in the email, they will be taken to a fake page of the said company. The said page is designed to look like the page of a legitimate company to fool the user into believing that it's an official page.
  • Hackers also send emails that employ hidden text or also known as zero font. This allows malicious emails to bypass email security controls.
  • Recently, hackers have also started to capitalize on COVID-19 fears. They send emails that employ malicious attachments disguised as messages offering face masks or thermometers.

To reduce the cases of phishing, healthcare professionals need to be trained to spot suspicious emails while working on the organization's systems.

Mobile device security

Many healthcare facilities allow mobile logins with lax security protocols. It's common to see healthcare providers share large datasets across the organization only because they lack the resources to manage access. This can leave their networks prone to malware or hacking efforts.

There may also be cases where the staff's mobile devices get stolen or lost. These devices, falling into wrong hands, can allow criminals to get access to the network using stored login data.

Internet of medical things

The Internet of Medical Things or IoMT is a connected system of medical devices that collects data and provides it to healthcare IT systems. The growth of internet technology along with the development of IoT devices is quickly making IoMT an exciting avenue for the healthcare sector. The market of IoMT is expected to reach a valuation of $136.8 billion by 2021.

However, it comes with various cybersecurity challenges as well. These devices are vulnerable to data breaches. So, healthcare IT teams need to be on their toes to ensure the security of IoMT devices.

How to address these data privacy and security challenges?

To tackle the issue of data security, healthcare providers need to work in close association with all the employees. Although cyberattacks will continue to evolve, there are a few general guidelines that organizations can follow to keep their networks safe. These include -

  • Educating employees and making them aware of the role they can play in ensuring cybersecurity.
  • Creating detailed protocols and standard procedures that outline the plan to deal with IT security or data breaches.
  • Keeping the software updated to secure any loopholes or security vulnerabilities in the software.
  • Creating strong passwords and authentication systems for employees who log into the system.
  • Regulating the usage of personal mobile devices as well as establishing strict protocols for the disposal of hardware.

Expert technology partners can help healthcare providers understand the scope of the problem and build comprehensive safety strategies. ITPN offers advisory, consulting, and a wide range of services. Our certified IT security professionals have pioneering expertise and experience to help our clients safeguard their critical assets by identifying, protecting, managing, and adequately responding to security threats and incidents.

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