The healthcare industry is of particular interest to malicious hackers. There are tons of personal data for harvesting and subsequent auctioning, for millions, on the dark web. From contact info and personal data to social security numbers and banking information, cybersecurity in healthcare is important as cybercriminals are always on the lookout to exploit vulnerabilities in healthcare systems.

 The HIPAA journal revealed that healthcare institutions reported the leak of more than 300,000 records in 2020.

Most of these breaches resulted from elaborate phishing and spear-phishing scams. These attacks preyed on the stress and confusion caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, the WannaCry ransomware attack on the NHS highlighted cybersecurity in healthcare institutions. Most healthcare organizations have put in place several countermeasures. But the ingenuity of cybercriminals has exposed lapses despite their best intentions and effort.

The year 2020 saw the Universal Health Services in the US affected when a ransomware attack occurred across 400 of its locations. Then there were reports of the first fatality ever due to a ransomware attack in Germany. Another recent attack in the Newfoundland Province of Canada brought the entire healthcare system to a grinding halt on October 30th. According to reports, hackers stole employee information and patient records at three local health offices. Countless such incidents have marred healthcare systems in 2020 and 2021, forcing institutions to take a step back and examine their healthcare and cybersecurity policies.

Healthcare and cybersecurity: How can healthcare institutions prevent cyber attacks?

The pandemic has left many healthcare institutions, research facilities and hospitals vulnerable to attacks. Hence, organizations should put in place a stringent yet modern cybersecurity protocol.

Multi-factor authentication

With many hospitals forced to let their employees work remotely, endpoint security has become crucial. Enabling MFA is the first step in securing data and controlling access to critical systems. According to Microsoft, MFA alone can block 99.9% of all automated attacks that compromise accounts.

Patch management

It’s common knowledge that most successful cyber attacks capitalize on known vulnerabilities. Also, simple patches can fix these vulnerabilities. But most users fail to update their systems with the latest security patches, leaving gaps for cybercriminals to exploit. Proper patch management secures these gaps. Organizations should implement a patch management policy that encourages behaviours, such as regular patching, and discourages users who delay applying critical patches.

Regular risk assessment

One of the main steps to laying a solid cybersecurity foundation is bi-annually conducting a detailed risk assessment. The pace at which new cyber threats are evolving makes it impossible to predict what the new attack vector will be. This means the only way to stay safe is to assess security protocols concerning new threats. One of the ways to evaluate existing vulnerabilities is to conduct penetration testing or a cybersecurity maturity assessment. Penetration testing and maturity assessments will reveal any hidden weaknesses, giving organizations a fair idea of what’s needed to strengthen their security posture.

Cybersecurity awareness programs

According to IBM, 9 in 10 attacks occur due to human error. No matter how strong your protocols, policies and cybersecurity systems are, humans will always remain a weak link.

The only way to strengthen this link is by conducting staff training. These programs should teach your staff the importance of cybersecurity, identifying malicious emails and basic cyber hygiene. They should also know the steps to take in case of an attack and the chain of command to follow in the aftermath.

Follow the principle of least privilege

As stated above, most attackers will leverage human weaknesses to gain unauthorized access to systems via social engineering and spear-phishing attacks. The best way to secure critical systems from falling victim to such attacks is by following the principle of least privilege. The principle of least privilege states that users should only have the minimum level of permissions required for their work; nothing more, nothing less. Minimum permissions remove possible entry points for ambitious hackers.

The healthcare and cybersecurity systems hold crucial patient data. Hackers can steal this data for monetary gain. Importantly, cyberattacks on healthcare systems can lead to diverted ambulances, cancelled surgeries and appointments, and even deaths in some cases. The above tips will empower cybersecurity personnel in healthcare institutions to keep their systems safe. But it doesn’t end there. Regularly assessing and updating cybersecurity policies according to the evolving nature of threats is as important as the suggestions above.