The Importance of Data Security in Healthcare makes it to the news now and then in connection with security breaches and leaks. For example, the largest independent physician group in Illinois, DuPage Medical Group, reported the exposure of more than 600,000 patient records in August 2021. In June 2021, The University Medical Center in Las Vegas was hit by a ransomware attack that affected the personal data of 1.3 million people. Medical facilities need their patients’ data to operate but usually don’t have the tools to keep it safe from exposure or harm.
The Importance of Protecting Data in Healthcare
Very few other industries gather as much personal data about their clients as healthcare. The amount of protected health information keeps increasing, especially now that medical information is entered and updated in electronic medical records (EMRs).Protected Health Information (PHI) is any detail about a person’s medical record like health history, lab test results, insurance details, etc., along with the demographic data that can be associated with their identity. Healthcare organizations need PHI to provide their services, and insurers need it to offer coverage.However, when this information ends up in unauthorized hands, two things can take place.First, the information can be wrongly used with malicious intent. Hackers can use the healthcare data to blackmail or extort individuals and cause them distress. They can also steal medical data and perform fraudulent activities like insurance scams. Second, healthcare providers can be fined. Usually, the medical facility is held liable for allowing the breach to occur. This means that healthcare organizations can have lawsuits, fines, and reputational loss.Another concern specifically related to exposed medical data is that a person does not have a way to change their medical information legally like they legally change their ID, bank accounts, and social security number in case of identity theft. Therefore a single data leak can have multiple consequences. For example, a US Marine who lost his wallet in 2004 had to incur more than $20,000 in bills for losing health data and for the following medical procedures.Ignoring the issue of data security in healthcare can result in hefty fines and a number of problems for hospitals, patients, and medical insurers. Therefore, healthcare-related software or technology that collects or processes PHI has to maintain HIPAA standards and regulations. HIPAA’s Security Rule makes sure that covered entities can effectively manage, process, and exchange PHI in electronic form while protecting the privacy and security of their customers. Encrypting backing up personal data is mandatory. The information also has to be disposed of after a certain period of use expires.
Main Challenges in Healthcare Data Security
A report in 2021 conducted across more than 25 countries on security threats in healthcare reveals some worrying statistics. 34% of the respondents were affected by ransomware attacks last year. 65% of those affected had their data encrypted by cybercriminals. 34% of those whose files had been held hostage via encryption paid the ransom, with the total losses averaging the US $1.27 million.These numbers also indicate the top security issues on the list.
Ransomware is one of the biggest challenges in the healthcare industry but with a new twist. Before, the threats used to be about not getting one’s business data back unless the ransom was paid. However, now the cybercrooks blackmail on exposing the customer’s records which puts the healthcare organization’s reputation at risk.The usual mode of operation of ransomware attackers is to infiltrate an organization’s network by sending malware through email links and messages. However, hackers can also penetrate the system through poorly configured VPNs. Cybercriminals are becoming bold and also sell services on a paid basis as ‘ransomware operators.’ The threat of such attacks is growing day by day, and the number of exposed health records went up by 51% from 2019 to 2021.
There are many hacker groups threatening patient data security in the digital land. Apart from financial gains, their motive is often politically to socially motivated. “Operation Justina” is a strong example of such cyberattacks perpetrated by ‘Anonymous’ and other hackers in response to the Justina Pelletier controversy. The attack crippled the internal network of the Boston Children’s Hospital and its website, which disrupted its core operations.
Use of Old Technology
Using older technology cannot guarantee the security of the patient’s data. Outdated software can be the main source of security issues in hospitals. The culprit could be an older version of the operating system or a legacy EHR solution. Vendors only provide support and updates for certain time periods. When that time has elapsed, and you don’t receive any more security patches, it can leave the software prone to vulnerabilities in the software that hackers can prey on.
Tips on How to Protect Healthcare Data
To build a secure system of data protection, these tips can help.
Follow a Strict Backup Plan
Cloud-based solutions offer this as part of basic functionality, but if you are using in-house servers, regular backup is essential. Opt for an isolated offsite location for maximum security.
Implement Data Controls and Access Levels
In typical clinical settings, PHI is accessed by multiple medical professionals. Administrative staff, doctors, and technicians need different levels of access rights. Not everyone should be able to change or erase records, and some of them can need special clearance to be viewed. Implementing such access levels and permissions can prevent accidental loss of data and minimizes the risk of unauthorized access.
Secure IoT and Mobile Devices
With the recent advances in connected devices, it makes sense to consider them as a possible security vulnerability. With equipment as complex as insulin pumps that have their own firmware and apps, there is a big chance that hackers can use them as an entry point into the system. To prevent this scenario, it is best to manage IoT devices on a separate network and monitor their activity.
Educate Your Staff
No amount of security precautions will have resulted if the employees are not trained well. The staff needs to be educated on the basics of internet security and have a good grip on the local tools and procedures that are in place. Having strong passwords should be a baseline. It is one of the best preventative measures you can take.
Hucu.ai As a Secure Communication App
Hucu.ai is a free HIPAA compliant text messaging application built for the healthcare industry. If you’re interested in the benefits of a secure, HIPAA-compliant secure messaging system, Hucu.ai is a perfect choice. We provide rapid, secure, documented text-based communication to hospitals, and our cloud-based technology ensures that you always have access to our services when you need them the most. We help you gain all the benefits of secure communication with secured data in healthcare while increasing your processes efficiency.Get Ready To Transform Your Organization For
Value Based Care.
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