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HIMSS Highlights Evolving HIT Cybersecurity Threats, Improvements

HIMSS' latest HIT cybersecurity survey outlines the progress organizations have made over the past year, while highlighting areas where entities can still improve.

HIT cybersecurity

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- HIMSS released its 2018 Cybersecurity Survey and found that most healthcare organizations continue to experience significant security incidents. As HIT cybersecurity grows more advanced, the threats have evolved to challenge sophisticated cybersecurity tools.

More then 75 percent of the healthcare organizations polled reported that they had experienced a recent significant security incident. These security incidents will continue to grow in sophistication, number, and complexity over the coming years, according to HIMSS survey authors.

“In the past year, the WannaCry and NotPetya international cyber-attacks affected some healthcare organizations and, for some organizations, these attacks affected them and may have constituted significant security incidents,” survey authors reported.

Online phishing and spear phishing proved to be the biggest cybersecurity threat, owning 37 percent of overall cyberattacks. Negligent insiders (21 percent), hackers (20 percent) and malicious insiders (5 percent) were also significant threats to healthcare networks.

User emails were the most common point of compromise, with 60 percent of cyberattacks using email to gain access to the network. 

“Email (such as phishing emails) tend to be popular modes of compromise,” said report authors. “With the plethora of tools available to generate phishing e-mails and relative ease to generate and send targeted emails or mass emails (plus, relatively little time commitment), it is not surprising that phishing is the most popular initial point of compromise for recent significant security incidents.”

“The likelihood of exploitability via phishing emails is high for reasons such as these. Both technical and human components may be compromised via such activity.”

Although cyberattacks are still prominent in health IT, the report observed that healthcare organizations are making progress and improving their cybersecurity programs in IT infrastructure.

Organizations are better using their resources to address cybersecurity concerns. Eighty-four percent of respondents said that their organization’s use of resources to address cybersecurity concerns has increased over the last year.

The increased use of resources includes organizations having a part of their IT budget dedicated to cybersecurity. Fifty-eight percent said that they had a defined, dedicated part of their budget for cybersecurity. This includes conducting risk assessments to see where security infrastructure improvements can be made.

“The findings of the 2018 HIMSS Cybersecurity Survey reveal that healthcare cybersecurity is advancing with some noted improvements,” the report concluded. “However, there is always room for growth. But, cybersecurity programs cannot advance alone.”

“Indeed, barriers such as lack of cybersecurity personnel and financial resources still persist,” report authors continued. “Accordingly, healthcare organizations (and their leaders) need to take proactive steps by instilling positive change and making cybersecurity a genuine priority. It is only then that we can move forward instead of taking one step forward and two steps back.”

New technology is emerging to help healthcare organizations protect their network without using as many day-to-day resources. Network monitoring is one option organizations can embrace for proactive cybersecurity.

Using proactive methods instead of reactive measures can help prevent and predict attacks and keep the network safer. Network monitoring and automation can do this without requiring more staff to come on board to manage network security.

Organizations need to be able to know and predict their network’s weaknesses. That way, entities can defend against cyberattacks before PHI is compromised.

Tools are needed to collect and present complex security data so it can be used to protect the network, according to Veriflow CTO Dr. Brighten Godfrey.

“There’s this modern trend of using automation, particular machine learning, to understand complex data,” said Godfrey.  “You can try to look for trends in monitoring or in monitored flow, using traditional monitoring methods and using machine learning.”

Adopting a proactive approach to network security will help healthcare organizations successfully defend against evolving cyberattacks by giving entities a more active role in their security.

Finding network weaknesses before cyberattackers do so, and fortifying against those weaknesses, will help organizations protect themselves from advancing cyberattacks.

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