Technology plays a critical role in the operation of the modern healthcare industry. Many healthcare providers are transitioning from paper-based systems to Electronic Health Records (EHR) ecosystems and other modern technologies, leading to far-reaching impacts for doctors and administrators. Like every other aspect of our lives, the digital transformation in the healthcare sector has been severely impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19.
Before the pandemic, telemedicine, and remote work, in general, were beginning to make inroads in the healthcare sector. Since the arrival of the new coronavirus, these two have been hurled to the forefront to help cope with the dire situation. Many employees in the healthcare industry are working remotely, using personal devices to access internal networks, which increases vulnerability to cyberattacks.
Cyber Risks in the Healthcare Sector
As you can see, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is fueling cybersecurity threats against the healthcare sector. The pandemic has spurred a 45 percent increase in cyberattacks against healthcare organizations. Patient information, both personal and financial data, is highly valuable to hackers who use it for unauthorized access to prescription medication, insurance fraud, identity theft, and other nefarious activities.
Tips for Institutions and Individuals to Stay Protected
With phishing, ransomware, and other types of cyberattacks against healthcare organizations on the rise, hospitals, medical research facilities, and other healthcare institutions need to be more vigilant and invest in cybersecurity. Below, we look at some of the steps that organizations in the healthcare industry can take to combat the threat of cybersecurity. These include:
Cybersecurity Training for Staff
More than anything else, cybercriminals rely on the human element to gain access to sensitive company data. Social engineering attacks such as phishing seek to take advantage of the lack of security awareness by staff members. Mandatory cybersecurity training keeps employees aware of the most common cyberattack tactics and how to avoid them. Training helps create a culture of vigilant employees who can identify and steer clear of phishing emails, malicious links, and other online threats.
Use a VPN
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are known for their online privacy benefits, but they can also improve your security posture significantly. Along with hiding your location and IP address, a VPN uses protocols, servers, and encryption to hide sensitive data from online threat actors. For instance, using a VPN router encrypts the traffic and keeps hackers from intercepting, modifying, or stealing sensitive personal and organizational data, including login credentials, patient health records, emails, and more.
Update Software Regularly
Most hacking attempts and cyberattacks will try to exploit vulnerabilities within your apps and third-party plugins. Software vendors consistently release updates for their applications to make them impenetrable. Ensure that you apply patches as soon as they are released. Updating your apps and plugins regularly keeps hackers from penetrating your system through vulnerabilities in your installed software.
Protect Personal Devices
Many healthcare organizations are allowing employees to use smartphones, tablets, and laptops in the retrieval, transmission, and collection of electronic health records. However, the use of personal devices presents a significant cybersecurity risk to the confidentiality of health information. Healthcare organizations and their personnel should take steps — such as encryption — to ensure the security of the data stored on these devices.
Globally, ransomware attacks targeting healthcare institutions are on the rise. Organizations in the healthcare industry need to empower themselves with ways to defend against ransomware before they fall victim to one of the most devastating cybersecurity threats in recent history. Installing an antivirus/antimalware solution is an excellent place to start. Antivirus doesn’t guarantee protection against ransomware, but it’s better than not using one.
The coronavirus crisis has accelerated the adoption of virtual care and remote work in healthcare. As a result, healthcare organizations are increasingly becoming the target of cybercriminals. How do healthcare organizations handle the new threat landscape during the current COVID-19 pandemic? To protect themselves, organizations in the healthcare sector should model their network infrastructure to proactively defend against all known internal and external threats.
Chris Jones is a writer at TurnonVPN.