Cybersecurity Best Practices for Safeguarding Healthcare Organizations
The digitization of the healthcare industry and its growing reliance on technology have increased both the need for—and vulnerability to—a range of cyber threats. Cyberattacks against healthcare organizations can threaten the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive patient data. In this article, we will explore cybersecurity best practices for healthcare organizations
1. Organizations should implement strong access controls to protect sensitive data
Healthcare organizations, in particular, should ensure that only authorized personnel have access to patient data and systems—otherwise, a breach could lead not just to the loss of money but also to the loss of human lives. This can be achieved through strong authentication methods such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and role-based access control (RBAC), which restrict access based on job responsibilities and minimize the risk of unauthorized access.
According to HITRUST, in their 2020 Healthcare Security and Privacy Survey, only 37% of surveyed organizations had implemented MFA for all remote access to their networks, indicating a gap in access control practices. Healthcare organizations should prioritize the implementation of strong access controls, which will help prevent unauthorized access to patient data.https://hitrustalliance.org/
2. Regularly Update and Patch Systems
Keeping software and systems up-to-date with the latest patches and updates is crucial for safeguarding against known vulnerabilities.
Healthcare organizations should establish a process to regularly update and patch all systems, including:
- Operating systems
- Network devices
That way they can address known vulnerabilities in their technology—and be prepared for potential cyber-attacks that exploit these vulnerabilities.
CIS – Health Services Sector recommends applying patches within 30 days of release to reduce the risk of exploitation. In addition, HealthcareITNews reported that in a survey of IT professionals, 27% of respondents identified unpatched vulnerabilities as the top cybersecurity concern for healthcare organizations. It is important for healthcare organizations to keep their computer systems up-to-date and patched.https://www.cisecurity.org/healthcare/
3. Conduct Regular Employee Training and Awareness Programs
To protect the data of patients and customers, healthcare organizations should train all employees—including clinical staff, administrative personnel, and IT staff—on how to recognize cyber threats.
Training should cover topics such as:
- Social engineering
- Password hygiene
- Safe Internet browsing practices
32% of healthcare organizations reported that human error was the leading cause of security incidents in 2020. Regular training and awareness programs can help employees identify and report potential security threats, reducing the risk of successful cyber attacks.https://www.himss.org/
4. Encrypt Data and Communications
Encryption is a critical security measure that protects data from unauthorized access. Healthcare organizations should implement encryption for all sensitive data, both at rest and in transit.
- Patient data stored in databases
- Data transmitted over networks
- Data stored on mobile devices
NIST – Healthcare Cybersecurity recommends using encryption protocols such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) for securing data in transit and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for securing data at rest. By encrypting data and communications, healthcare organizations can add an additional layer of protection to sensitive information, making it more difficult for cybercriminals to access and exploit.https://www.nist.gov/topics/healthcare-cybersecurity
5. Conduct Regular Security Audits and Risk Assessments
Cybersecurity is essential to a healthcare organization’s ongoing operations, and it must be maintained through periodic audits and risk assessments.
This process involves:
- Evaluating the effectiveness of existing security controls
- Identifying potential vulnerabilities in systems and processes
- Prioritizing areas for improvement
HITRUST recommends conducting comprehensive risk assessments at least annually, and more frequently for high-risk areas such as remote access and third-party vendor management. Regular security audits and risk assessments help healthcare organizations identify and address potential vulnerabilities proactively, minimizing the risk of security incidents and breaches.https://hitrustalliance.org/
6. Use Network Segmentation
Network segmentation divides a network into smaller, isolated segments in order to limit the impact of any security breaches.
Healthcare organizations should implement network segmentation to restrict access to sensitive systems and data and limit lateral movement within the network in case of a security incident.
CyberMDX recommends using techniques such as virtual local area networks (VLANs), firewalls, and virtual private networks (VPNs) to segment the network and create boundaries between different types of systems and data. This helps to contain the impact of a security incident and prevents unauthorized access to critical systems and data.https://www.cybermdx.com/
7. Have a Robust Incident Response Plan
Because no organization is completely secure, it’s essential for companies in every industry to have a well-thought-out plan for handling cybersecurity incidents when they occur.
This includes processes for identifying, containing, and resolving security incidents, as well as communication and reporting protocols.
OCR – Health Information Privacy recommends including key stakeholders from IT, legal, and communications in the incident response team, and conducting regular tabletop exercises to test the effectiveness of the plan.https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/
Healthcare organizations that prepare for security incidents can respond quickly and minimize the impact on day-to-day operations.
8. Regularly Backup and Test Data
Backups are critical to recovering from security incidents and data breaches.
Healthcare organizations should regularly back up all critical data and test the integrity of backups to ensure they can be successfully restored in case of a data loss event.
Becker’s Hospital Review – Health IT & CIO Report suggests using a combination of on-site and off-site backups, and regularly testing the restore process to verify data integrity. Backups provide an additional layer of protection against data loss due to cyber attacks and other data breaches.https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology.html
9. Follow Industry Standards and Best Practices
These standards provide comprehensive guidance on cybersecurity controls, risk management, and incident response, tailored specifically for the healthcare industry. Following industry standards and best practices helps healthcare organizations establish a strong cybersecurity posture and stay up-to-date with the latest threats and mitigation strategies.
Healthcare organizations should adhere to industry standards and best practices for cybersecurity. This includes following guidelines and frameworks provided by organizations such as HITRUST, CIS – Health Services Sector, NIST – Healthcare Cybersecurity, and HIMSS, among others.
10. Stay Informed and Collaborate
Cybersecurity threats and techniques are constantly evolving, and healthcare organizations need to stay informed about the latest trends and best practices. Healthcare organizations should collaborate and exchange information with peers, industry associations, and cybersecurity experts to stay abreast of the latest threats and mitigation strategies.
HIT Consultant, HealthcareITNews, and Healthcare Dive are valuable sources of news and information on the latest cybersecurity trends and best practices in the healthcare industry. By staying informed and collaborating with others, healthcare organizations can enhance their cybersecurity defenses and better protect their systems and data.
In conclusion, cybersecurity is a critical concern for healthcare organizations as they digitize and rely on technology to manage patient data.
By implementing the following healthcare organizations can enhance their cybersecurity posture and safeguard against potential cyberattacks and data breaches.
- Strong access controls
- Regularly updating and patching systems
- Conducting employee training and awareness programs
- Encrypting data and communications
- Conducting regular security audits and risk assessments
- Using network segmentation
- Having a robust incident response plan
- Regularly backing up and testing data
- Following industry standards and best practices
- Staying informed and collaborating
It’s important for healthcare organizations to take a proactive approach to cybersecurity and prioritize it as a key component of their overall risk management strategy.
By following best practices and recommendations from organizations such as HITRUST, CIS – Health Services Sector, NIST – Healthcare Cybersecurity, HIMSS, and OCR – Health Information Privacy, healthcare organizations can create a robust cybersecurity framework that protects patient data, ensures confidentiality, integrity, and availability of critical systems and information, and mitigates the risk of cybersecurity incidents.
Cybersecurity is a never-ending process.
Healthcare organizations should regularly review and update their cybersecurity policies and procedures, as well as invest in the latest cybersecurity technologies and solutions to keep up with emerging threats.
In addition, fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness among employees is crucial. Healthcare organizations should provide regular training and education programs to employees so that they can understand cybersecurity threats and follow best practices in their day-to-day activities.
Cybersecurity is a vital concern for healthcare providers in the digital age. By implementing best practices and following industry standards, healthcare organizations can enhance their cybersecurity posture and protect patient data from potential cyber threats. It requires collaboration, vigilance, and ongoing commitment to ensure patients’ privacy, security, and trust in the healthcare system.
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- Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST): https://hitrustalliance.org/
- Center for Internet Security (CIS) – Health Services Sector: https://www.cisecurity.org/healthcare/
- Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS): https://www.himss.org/
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – Healthcare Cybersecurity: https://www.nist.gov/topics/healthcare-cybersecurity
- Office for Civil Rights (OCR) – Health Information Privacy: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/
- CyberMDX: https://www.cybermdx.com/
- HIT Consultant: https://hitconsultant.net/
- HealthcareITNews: https://www.healthcareitnews.com/
- Healthcare Dive: https://www.healthcaredive.com/
- Becker’s Hospital Review – Health IT & CIO Report: https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology.html
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