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Upgrading Healthcare Network Security to Protect Patient Data

The growing number and sophistication of cyberattacks prompts organizations to increase their healthcare network security.

healthcare network security

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Last year, healthcare network data breaches hit an all-time high as cyberattackers targeted patient records. Entities need to gain more visibility and control over their networks and protect patient data by upgrading healthcare network security.

The healthcare industry was the target of over 23 percent of all data breaches in 2017, according to a recent Ponemon Institute report. Healthcare payers and providers face an almost constant threat of destructive cyberattacks.

Cyberattacks are common in the healthcare industry, with 62 percent of organizations experiencing a significant attack in the past 12 months. Half of the organizations that experienced an attack lost patient data.

While outside attacks do make up a majority of reported incidents, healthcare organizations also need to keep an eye on their own employees. Sixty-five percent of respondents reported that they experienced a cyberattack because of employee negligence or a malicious insider.

These attacks targeted patient medical records, billing information, log-in credentials, passwords and authentication, and clinical trial/research information.

Medical device security is another concern for healthcare organizations. Many mobile medical devices are still relatively new to healthcare organizations. Sixty-seven percent answered no or unsure when asked if medical device security was part of their overall cybersecurity strategy. Thirty-one percent have no plans to include medical device security in future cybersecurity plans.

“In an increasingly connected, digitally centric world, hackers have more opportunities and incentive than ever to target healthcare data, and the problem will only increase in scope over time,” Merlin International Director of Healthcare Strategy Brian Wells said in a statement. “Healthcare organizations must get even more serious about cybersecurity to protect themselves and their patients from losing access to or control of the proprietary and personal information and systems the industry depends on to provide essential care.”

The report suggested that employee education is severely lacking and that including educational resources and increasing cybersecurity awareness can go a long way to protect against cybersecurity incidents.

Incident response programs are also low, with only half of organizations implementing a process for mitigating and preventing attacks from happening.

Employee education and incident response processes are critical to protecting patient data, but healthcare organizations cannot rely on users to fully understand and actively prevent data breaches. Entities need to have tools in place that will catch security events that may break through due to human error, especially with the growing number of devices connected to the network.

Lacking cybersecurity upgrades can leave a network vulnerable to attacks and put patient data at risk. Organizations going through a digital transformation need to examine their security budgets as more tools are added to the IT infrastructure.

Outdated infrastructure security can lead to cybersecurity vulnerabilities such as inadequacies in access controls, patch management, configuration management, encryption of data, and website security.

Modern IT infrastructure and practices must be used to successfully defend against cyberattacks. Healthcare projects and programs are becoming dependent on IT infrastructure technology.

Organizations are constantly updating their digital tools to move forward with value-based care initiatives and medical research. As covered entities advance their tools, they need to advance their IT security and protect the data.

Tools such as threat intelligence and security information and event management (SIEM) can give organizations deeper insight into their network and what kinds of threats they are vulnerable to.

Threat intelligence is evidence-based knowledge that gives organizations insight into emerging and potential threats. This allows entities to make informed decisions about how to protect their network from current and possible future threats.

SIEM aggregates event data produced by security devices, network infrastructures, systems, and applications. SIEM is a window into the security solutions an organization has implemented. These solutions collect, analyze, and present information to monitoring IT staff, who then detect if there is a weakness or threat to the healthcare IT network.

Using tools that will automate certain processes and give IT administrators a more complete look at their network will help prevent potentially crippling cyberattacks. Educating users is important for healthcare network security, but having the correct tools is also critical to preventing data breaches.

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