Posted by Tyler Chancey, GCFA on

Tyler Chancey is a seasoned cybersecurity professional currently serving as the Director of Cyber Security at Scarlett Cybersecurity Services, With a solid foundation in Computer Software Engineering from the University of Florida, Tyler holds a repertoire of certifications that underscore his expertise. These include the prestigious Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert and Microsoft 365 Certified: Security Administrator Associate, showcasing his mastery in Microsoft's enterprise solutions. Tyler's commitment to comprehensive security is further evidenced by his CompTIA Security+ certification, demonstrating proficiency in core cybersecurity principles. Additionally, his GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA) credential attests to his advanced skills in forensic analysis—an invaluable asset in today's complex cybersecurity landscape. Tyler's dedication to staying at the forefront of industry standards is evident in the active pursuit and maintenance of these certifications, making him a trusted authority in the field.

Doctor Using Computer Connection to Server Patient Database

Healthcare cybersecurity faces numerous challenges, including the increasing sophistication of cyber threats, limited resources for implementing robust security measures, and the need to balance patient privacy with data accessibility. It is crucial for healthcare organizations to prioritize cybersecurity to protect sensitive patient information from potential breaches.

There are many cybersecurity challenges in the healthcare sector. They include protecting patient privacy, vulnerability of legacy systems, navigating outdated technology, and solving and preventing internal misuse. These challenges occur because of the most common attacks including phishing, data breaches, malware, and more.

According to the stats, the largest recorded healthcare data breach in the United States was back in 2015 at Anthem Inc. and the numbers aren’t slowing down to date. In 2022, in the US alone, the number of data compromises stood at 1802 cases. The Healthcare sector was one of the top three industry sectors that recorded the most cybersecurity challenges.

These stats showcase some of the many challenges the cybersecurity team faces to prevent attacks in the healthcare sector. If you are someone who works in the healthcare sector or has such kind of a business, this guide is for you. Keep on reading to have a better understanding of these challenges. Let’s dive in. 

Top Cybersecurity Issues Faced by the Healthcare Sector

All the healthcare sectors are leaning on IT and it’s very crucial that they have systems that are error-free. Cybersecurity service providers need to bring their A-game and work diligently to stay on top of these emerging threats. They must understand all the possible challenges that they can face. 

The cybersecurity challenges are always evolving but here are some of the biggest challenges that the healthcare industry faces. 

1. Phishing Attacks

In the healthcare sector, phishing attacks often involve sending deceptive emails to healthcare workers. Such emails and messages are aimed to trick the workers into revealing personal information or login details.

Cybercriminals may pose as legitimate entities, such as government health agencies or insurance providers, in an attempt to lure victims into clicking dangerous links or downloading harmful attachments. 

2. Malware Attacks

Malware attacks are the most widely experienced and they give rise to many challenges in the healthcare sector. Malware is software designed to damage and infiltrate networks, computers, and other connected systems. The types of malware attacks include spyware, adware, and viruses.

Trojan horse is one of the malware attacks that is worth mentioning here. It is disguised as something harmless. They can be used to give hackers access to computers and sensitive information. 

One of the infamous Trojans' “ILOVEYOU” began as an email attachment featuring the subject line “ILOVEYOU”. Whoever opened the email, the trojan sent itself to everyone in the user’s contact list and overwrote the sensitive information/files on their computer.

3. Ransomware Attacks

It is a type of malware attack. It involves encrypting the victim’s files and demanding a ransom/payment to gain back access. This type of attack is very lethal and can disrupt the delivery of care and compromise sensitive patient data. Such attacks can lead to drastic financial losses. 

One of the famous ransomware attacks on a healthcare system was the attack on the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center back in 2016. The hospital's computer systems were encrypted by the attackers using malware, and they wanted a ransom of 40 Bitcoins (about $17,000 at the time) in return for the key to unlock the encryption.

4. Data Breach - Theft of Patient Data

Data breaches are one of the leading causes of cybersecurity challenges for the healthcare sector. They occur because of improper device management and monitoring and encryption of sensitive data (Patient data and medication). In most cases of data breaches, it was noted that healthcare providers failed to follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Many cybercriminals target patient data in an attempt to steal the data. They aim to do this to impersonate the patient and attempt to receive reimbursement for their healthcare services. They also aim to file a fraudulent insurance claim.

5. Insider Threats

We have read about the cybersecurity attacks from outsiders. But this is an insider threat as the insiders contribute to these attacks. However, such attacks can be willing or accidental. Such attacks occur when someone with access to the healthcare system or network puts other users and their sensitive information at risk.

There are many chances that some of your employees are unhappy and they can decide purposefully to steal sensitive information. They can also disrupt the network and affect your availability. The stolen data can be used against the patient’s privacy. Such attacks have increased by 47% in the last two years. 

Many businesses and organizations strongly believe that insider threats are triggered by privileged-level users. Therefore, it is imperative to keep a constant check on them.

6. DDoS Attacks

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a type of cyberattack that aims to overwhelm a network or system with traffic from multiple sources, making it unavailable to users. DDoS attacks can be very disruptive, and they can have serious consequences for healthcare organizations.

According to a 2023 report by the Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center (HC3), DDoS attacks are the most common type of cyberattack against healthcare organizations. DDoS attacks can have a number of negative consequences for healthcare organizations, including:

  • Disruption of critical services: DDoS attacks can disrupt access to electronic health records, scheduling systems, and other critical healthcare services. This can lead to delays in care and potentially harmful consequences for patients.
  • Damage to reputation: DDoS attacks can damage a healthcare organization's reputation and make it difficult to attract new patients.

Healthcare organizations need to take steps to mitigate this risk, such as:

  • Implementing DDoS protection solutions. DDoS protection solutions can help to mitigate the impact of DDoS attacks by filtering out malicious traffic.
  • Conducting regular security assessments. Regular security assessments can help to identify and address any vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers.
  • Educating staff on cybersecurity best practices. This includes training staff on how to identify and report suspicious activity, as well as how to create strong passwords and keep their systems secure.

By taking these steps, healthcare organizations can reduce the risk of DDoS attacks and protect their patients' sensitive data.

7. Corrupted/Compromised IoT Devices

If your organization uses IoT devices for better wireless connectivity and transmission of data, you need to make sure that such devices aren’t hacked or compromised. It becomes a major threat to sensitive information and private health records. 

8. Protecting Patient Privacy

Protecting the patient’s health privacy is one of the biggest challenges that the cyber team faces. It’s mostly caused by outside theft or insider theft (mentioned earlier). Hackers from outside penetrate the medical system and steal patient information for financial gain. For instance, they use patient’s information to submit fraudulent claims to health insurers.

The Office of Inspector General states that medical identity theft wastes taxpayer money and causes disruption. The hackers can also use the patient’s data to force healthcare organizations to pay a ransom for a full recovery.

After 1996 when HIPAA was introduced, healthcare organizations and businesses are legally obligated to protect patients’ privacy at all costs. The HIPAA clearly sets the limitations on how and when the PHI (Protected Health Information) can be disclosed or shared with other healthcare organizations. 

The best way to protect the patient’s data and privacy is through cybersecurity measures and by closely following the legal regulations and standards as stated by HIPAAHealthcare organizations can help secure patient data and ensure that it’s kept away from potential cybercriminals.

Explore the following valuable patient privacy informational resources to gain a comprehensive understanding of patient privacy laws and resources catering to both patients and healthcare providers

  • AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians) Advocacy Focus on Patient Privacy (HIPAA) 
    Delve into the intricacies of patient privacy within family medicine with this AAFP resource. It not only provides a comprehensive overview of HIPAA regulations but also offers links to other related resources. Gain insight into how patient privacy applies specifically within the context of family medicine.
  • Healthcare.gov's Resources for Individuals
    If you have common questions about patient privacy, Healthcare.gov is a valuable source. Find answers to frequently asked questions regarding your rights and protections related to patient privacy. This resource is tailored to individuals seeking information to safeguard their personal health information.
  • Rural Health Information Hub's Insights on Patient Privacy
    Discover how the Privacy Rule applies to rural healthcare settings. This resource sheds light on the unique considerations and challenges faced by rural healthcare providers in ensuring patient privacy.
  • HHS.gov (Department of Health and Human Services) 
    The HIPAA Privacy Rule: Gain historical context and a detailed definition of the HIPAA Privacy Rule from the official source. Understand the evolution of this crucial regulation and its implications for protecting patient privacy.
  • HealthIT.gov's Health Information Privacy Law and Policy
    This comprehensive resource provides an in-depth look at health information privacy laws and policies. Explore topics such as patient choice, opt-in policies, patient consent laws, and more. It serves as an essential guide for both patients and healthcare providers navigating the complex landscape of health information privacy.

9. Vulnerability of Legacy Systems and Navigating Outdated Technology

Legacy systems are a major cybersecurity challenge facing the healthcare sector. These systems are often outdated and no longer supported by their manufacturers, which makes them vulnerable to attack.

According to a 2021 Kaspersky Lab report, 73% of health systems use medical equipment running legacy operating systems. Additionally, a 2021 Healthcare Financial Management Association survey found that only 9% of healthcare organizations have prioritized the removal of legacy systems as part of their overall cybersecurity strategy.

Globally, the average cost of a healthcare data breach is USD 4.45 million. (IBM, 2023). The stat highlights the seriousness of the vulnerability of legacy systems in the healthcare sector. Healthcare organizations need to take steps to mitigate this risk, such as prioritizing the removal of legacy systems and implementing security solutions that are compatible with legacy systems.

Here are some tips for healthcare organizations on how to mitigate the risk posed by legacy systems:

  • Prioritize the removal of legacy systems. This is the best way to reduce the risk posed by legacy systems. When removing legacy systems, it is important to have a plan in place to migrate data to newer systems and to train staff on how to use the new systems.
  • Implement security solutions that are compatible with legacy systems. This may include using firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other security solutions to protect legacy systems from attack.
  • Keep legacy systems up to date. This may involve applying security patches and upgrades from the manufacturer. If security patches and upgrades are not available, it is important to take steps to mitigate the risk of attack, such as isolating the legacy system from the network and restricting access to the system.
  • Educate staff on cybersecurity best practices. This includes training staff on how to identify and report suspicious activity, as well as how to create strong passwords and keep their systems secure.

10. Solving and Preventing Internal Misuse

Internal misuse, also known as insider threats, is one of the biggest cybersecurity challenges facing the healthcare sector. Verizon's 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report found that employees were responsible for 39% of healthcare breaches, more than twice the amount in other industries.

Internal misuse can include leaking passwords or financial information, selling patient data, or downloading malware. Accidental insider threats occur when someone makes a mistake that puts the organization's systems or data at risk. This could include things like clicking on a phishing link, leaving a laptop unlocked in a public place, or failing to follow security policies.

Healthcare organizations need to take steps to mitigate this risk, such as:

  • Implementing security solutions that can detect and prevent insider threats. This could include things like user behavior analytics (UBA) and data loss prevention (DLP) solutions.
  • Creating a culture of security awareness within the organization. This means encouraging employees to speak up if they see something suspicious and to follow security policies.

 

Real-Life Hypothetical Scenario

Imagine an urban hospital in the heart of a major city. This hospital, like many others, relies heavily on technology to provide quality patient care. It features a state-of-the-art electronic health records (EHR) system, cutting-edge medical devices, and a network of interconnected systems that streamline operations. However, this hospital faces a daunting cybersecurity challenge.

One fateful day, an untrained employee unknowingly clicks on a seemingly authentic email attachment  (Phishing Attack).  But that email contains a potent strain of malware that quickly spreads throughout the hospital's network. The cybercriminals have successfully turned this phishing attempt into a malware attack. Within hours, patient records become inaccessible, medical devices malfunction and the hospital grinds to a halt. 

Desperate medical staff resort to pen and paper to document patient information, while critical surgeries are delayed. The attackers demand a hefty ransom in exchange for the decryption key.

This hypothetical scenario illustrates the devastating consequences of a healthcare cybersecurity breach. It underscores the urgency of addressing cybersecurity challenges in the healthcare sector to protect patient safety, privacy, and the integrity of medical operations.

Why Consider Outsourcing to a Cybersecurity Provider to Face These Challenges?

The healthcare sector's ever-evolving cybersecurity challenges demand a proactive approach to safeguard sensitive patient data and critical medical infrastructure. Considering outsourcing to a specialized cybersecurity provider can be a strategic decision for several compelling reasons.

Firstly, cybersecurity providers are experts in their field, constantly monitoring emerging threats and developing innovative solutions. They possess the knowledge, skills, and resources to stay ahead of cyber adversaries, mitigating vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

Secondly, outsourcing cybersecurity can alleviate the burden on healthcare organizations already stretched thin by providing patient care. Cybersecurity providers can implement robust security measures, conduct regular risk assessments, and respond swiftly to incidents, allowing healthcare professionals to focus on their primary mission—delivering healthcare.

Thirdly, cybersecurity providers offer scalability and flexibility, adapting security strategies to suit the specific needs and budget constraints of healthcare organizations. This ensures that cybersecurity efforts are tailored and cost-effective.

Lastly, compliance with regulations like HIPAA is critical in healthcare. Cybersecurity providers are well-versed in healthcare regulations and can help organizations navigate complex compliance requirements, reducing the risk of costly fines and legal consequences.

Final Thoughts

We've explored, challenges like phishing attacks, malware, data breaches, insider threats, DDoS attacks, and legacy system vulnerabilities loom large. However, solutions exist. By prioritizing patient privacy, updating legacy systems, and fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness, healthcare organizations can fortify their defenses. 

Outsourcing to cybersecurity experts offers a proactive strategy to combat evolving threats, ensuring patient safety and data integrity. In a world where healthcare relies on digital innovation, embracing robust cybersecurity practices is not just a necessity; it's a lifeline to protect both patients and the healthcare industry itself.

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