Healthcare data breaches have become a significant concern for hospitals and health systems. In today's digital age, healthcare providers must not only protect patient data, but also ensure that their security posture is robust enough to safeguard clinical data, medical research and other forms of protected health information (PHI) from security breaches.
The first step in securing healthcare information against unauthorized access is identifying potential risk factors. Some of these risk factors include outdated computer systems, lack of security awareness training and inadequate security incident response plans.
Healthcare employees know that securing sensitive patient information in compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations is critically important. However, the methods through which healthcare professionals must secure personal health information have changed over the years.
In the past, keeping patient data safe meant locking manila envelopes containing patient files in a secure filing cabinet. As the healthcare industry modernized, storing health data transitioned from physical patient files to cloud-based solutions.
While this transition improved healthcare providers’ convenience and efficiency, it also exposed sensitive data to breaches.
Reliable healthcare data security solutions are essential to ensure that patient health information remains:
- Safe from data breaches
- Adherent to HIPAA protocol
What is Data Security?
Data security is the process of securing digital data—such as electronic health records—from unauthorized access. Healthcare industry data security protects organizations against:
- Data breaches
- Other security threats
These threats and hacking attempts could expose patient information to theft, cybercrime, terrorism, and natural disasters. Generally, data security encompasses several practices, such as:
- Data encryption
- Data masking
- Disaster recovery
Additionally, successful data security involves both technology solutions and user privacy and security practices.
Why Is Data Security Important in Healthcare?
As the healthcare industry continues to modernize, the need for reliable healthcare data security solutions has become increasingly important. These solutions must protect patient privacy and ensure that patient safety, patient care and patient outcomes are not compromised. Data encryption, data masking, disaster recovery and tokenization are all crucial components of a comprehensive data security strategy. Additionally, healthcare organizations must implement regular risk assessments and execute risk management programs to address data vulnerabilities.
Data security is currently one of the biggest concerns of the healthcare industry. Data breaches and cyberattacks have skyrocketed across the sector in recent years.
According to a 2021 study, healthcare breaches increased by 55.1% between 2019 and 2020. Almost 600 data breaches occurred in 2020 alone. Breaches can be time-consuming to recover from and expensive to repair. The average healthcare organization required 236 days to recover from a data breach and spent an average cost of $500 per compromised patient record. Healthcare breaches are common and can lead to drastic consequences. Healthcare organizations must stay vigilant against attacks and breaches by putting in place data protection measures.
HIPAA Privacy Rule and Patient Data
Implementing healthcare data security solutions is not only crucial to keeping patient records secure. It is also necessary to stay compliant with HIPAA rules. HIPAA regulations, particularly the HIPAA Security Rule, mandate that healthcare organizations evaluate security measures through regular risk assessments and implement comprehensive security measures to remain compliant. This includes implementing security awareness training for employees to ensure they understand how to protect patient data and PHI.
The HIPAA Security Rule mandates that healthcare organizations:
- Evaluate security measures through regular risk assessments
- Execute risk management programs to address data vulnerabilities
What Are Some Healthcare Data Risk Factors?
The first step in securing healthcare information against unauthorized access is identifying risk factors that make a healthcare organization vulnerable to an attack. Healthcare organizations that present the following risk factors may be at a higher risk of experiencing a data breach.
The Use of Outdated/Legacy Systems
Outdated applications and operating systems often have less reliable security controls than new systems. As a result, healthcare organizations that utilize outdated apps risk a data security breach.
EMAIL SCAMS WITH MALWARE
Email scams are some of the most popular methods of compromising healthcare security. In these scams, healthcare workers receive emails from what looks like an authorized user. However, they contain malicious links that compromise employee data. In busy environments like healthcare organizations, employees may be more likely to open these malicious emails.
Internal Employees, Contractors and Vendors
Healthcare operations usually employ more staff than other organization types. Typically, the more employees an organization has, the higher the risk that employees or contractors will compromise data integrity by:
- Sharing private data with outside parties
- Falling victim to malware schemes
- Stealing data for personal use
The more business associates that have access to data, the higher the risk of a security breach.
Unsecured Wireless Network Security
Today, many healthcare organizations use wireless networks to give staff access to patient data anywhere in their buildings. While convenient, this necessitates proper wireless network security to avoid security breaches.
A Lack of Strong Passwords
In organizations in which every employee creates their own login information, weak passwords pose security risks. All it takes is one employee using an easily guessable password to compromise the entire healthcare data system in a data breach.
A Lack of Training in Data Security Practices
Data attacks do not only occur through malware and viruses. They can also result from employee carelessness.
Each healthcare worker, volunteer and business associate must receive proper training to identify and combat security issues within their organizations. Medical organizations that do not implement data security training are at a higher risk of leaking sensitive data to bad actors.
Failure to Always Keep Data Secure
An overall failure to secure personal data against third parties makes organizations vulnerable to attacks. Even employees walking away from mobile devices or workstations without locking them can create an opening for data theft.
Why Does the Healthcare Industry Have a Higher Risk of Data Attacks?
Any organization with digital data storage is at risk of a data attack. However, healthcare organizations tend to experience more data attacks and security breaches than businesses in other industries. There are a few reasons why the healthcare industry has a high risk of data attacks:
- Patient information is valuable: Medical data is worth more to hackers than traditional customer data. Hackers can quickly sell healthcare data online. Protecting patient health and patient safety is vital.
- Digital medical devices abound: The medical industry is advancing faster than other industries, specifically in terms of mobile technology and digital healthcare devices. However, data storage devices present an easy way for hackers to access sensitive information.
- Healthcare workers access data remotely: Healthcare organizations often employ hundreds or even thousands of staff. Remote data access becomes critical for such large organizations. When staff access data remotely, they create greater vulnerability to cyberattacks.
- Medical practices are busy: Medical professionals are often overwhelmed with patient care and typically manage large workloads daily. Implementing data backup, secure passwords and other data privacy measures could disrupt staff workflow. As a result, many organizations neglect these data protection practices.
Health information contains more private, personal data than other customer files, so healthcare organizations are more vulnerable to attack. Implementing proper data protection measures is crucial to preserving the integrity and safety of healthcare organizations.
What Types of Healthcare Data Security Solutions Should You Use?
Medical organizations must use a combination of security measures to tackle all angles of protecting data from breaches and attacks. The best-protected organizations use each of these data security solutions strategically within their day-to-day practices.
1. Data Encryption
Data encryption is a form of data protection that involves encoding health information. Only those with a unique decryption key can decipher it. When medical organizations encrypt data, they restrict access to only authorized users and prevent hackers from decoding valuable information.
2. Anti-Virus/Malware/Spyware Apps
Anti-virus and anti-malware apps are critical to healthcare data protection. However, keeping these apps updated is just as important as downloading them in the first place. Well-protected medical organizations utilize comprehensive, updated malware apps that target all types of malicious programs that could compromise an organization’s data.
3. System Monitoring Apps
System monitoring apps track and record all activities and usage data within a data system, including information about who is updating, accessing, deleting and moving patient files. If these apps detect any suspicious activity, they send alerts to the organization’s IT team. Installing system monitoring apps is a critical way to:
- Track employee activity
- Implement access control
- Identify hacker activity early
For example, an organization’s IT account manager can use these apps to implement relevant access controls to prevent employees from obtaining information outside their specific job roles.
4. Multi-Factor Authentication
Employee logins present an easily hackable outlet for cybercriminals to access an organization’s health records. Unfortunately, employees and business associates do not always use secure passwords for their healthcare logins, leaving their accounts vulnerable to attacks. However, employing multi-factor authentication provides an additional data privacy measure. By requiring business associates to confirm their login via text or email, organizations can prevent hackers from compromising vulnerable employee login information.
5. Ransomware Protection
Ransomware is a form of malware that can infect healthcare computers and threaten to compromise patient files unless the organization pays a ransom. Adequate ransomware protection is essential to prevent ransomware from entering a healthcare organization’s system.
6. Employee Training
Employee training is just as necessary to data protection as anti-virus programs and encryption. Best practices to ensure that all employees, volunteers, business associates and other third parties who access patient records know how to stay vigilant against data attacks is essential to securing data against hackers.
It’s vital that healthcare organizations prioritize patient safety and data security to protect patients' health, comply with regulations and minimize the impact of data breaches. This requires a combination of technology solutions and user privacy and security practices. Health and human services organizations must continue investing in data discovery and security awareness training to safeguard data and protect patient privacy in this digital age.
What Is the Importance of Data Security in Healthcare?
Data security is crucial to protect private patient information from hackers and uphold HIPAA data privacy regulations.
What Are the Four Major Categories of Data Found in Healthcare Organizations?
Claims data details the billable interactions between patients and healthcare providers. This data includes four major categories:
Practitioners can obtain this data through health information technology. Organizations must secure this data carefully because it contains billing information, such as credit card details and patient addresses.
Why Is Data Security the Biggest Concern of HealthCare?
Data attacks are some of the most compromising experiences medical organizations face. Attacks can:
- Be expensive
- Put highly confidential patient information at risk
- Require extensive time and resources to completely recover
All of these results disrupt the essential speed and efficiency of healthcare operations.
How is data protected in healthcare?
You can protect data using data encryption, data masking, disaster recovery and tokenization. An organization should conduct regular risk assessments and risk management programs to address data vulnerabilities and ensure compliance with regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to protect patient data and PHI. This means implementing security awareness training for employees to ensure they understand how to protect patient data and PHI and work with infrastructure security agencies to gain access to resources and expertise.
Why is information security so important in healthcare?
Information security is critical because it protects sensitive patient information from unauthorized access and potential breaches. Data breaches and cyberattacks have become increasingly common in the healthcare industry and can lead to drastic consequences such as theft, cybercrime and even terrorism. These breaches can be time-consuming to recover from and expensive to repair, with the average healthcare organization spending an average cost of $500 per compromised patient record. Additionally, HIPAA regulations mandate that healthcare organizations implement comprehensive security measures to remain compliant and protect patient privacy. Information security is essential for healthcare organizations to maintain the trust of patients and ensure their safety.
What are some of the common data security threats in healthcare?
Common threats include cyberattacks, ransomware attacks, insider threats and social engineering attacks. Cyberattacks target electronic health records and other sensitive patient information, while ransomware attacks lock healthcare organizations out of their own systems until a ransom is paid. Insider threats occur when employees or contractors misuse their access to sensitive data, and social engineering attacks can trick employees into revealing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links. Organizations must implement robust data security measures such as data encryption, data masking, disaster recovery and security awareness training to protect patient data and PHI.
Contact ConvergeOne Today
At ConvergeOne, data security is just one of the many practices we incorporate into our larger healthcare technology solutions. We use our technical expertise to serve a wide range of healthcare clients with tasks such as:
- Optimizing customer experience
- Managing complex data systems
- Implementing superior data security measures
An exponential rise in cloud applications and connected devices calls for pervasive mobility, security and speed. At ConvergeOne, our software-defined network experts build secure, cloud and hybrid networks that enable your organization to power the future of work, engage customers in new ways and run secure, reliable IT operations. Contact us to get started today.