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9 reasons why healthcare is the biggest target for cyberattacks

The healthcare industry is at risk

Organizations are becoming increasingly susceptible to online attacks – threatening day-to-day work and compromising confidential patient data. Long, busy days mean healthcare staff don’t have the time and resources to educate themselves about online risks. The potential disruption caused by a complete overhaul in online security is just too significant for many organizations even to consider.

Healthcare leaders are ready to increase spending on cybersecurity. But with new threats uncovered every day, it isn’t easy to know where an organization would be better off investing their budget. High demand for patient information and often-outdated systems are among the nine reasons healthcare is now the biggest target for online attacks.

1. Private patient information is worth a lot of money to attackers

Hospitals store an incredible amount of patient data. Confidential data that’s worth a lot of money to hackers who can sell it quickly – making the industry a growing target.  These organizations have to protect their patients’ records. With GDPR coming into play this year, it’s becoming increasingly important for hospitals to secure their information.

Financial penalties – whether they be fines for not cooperating with GDPR or paying to retrieve their data from ransomware – are real and alarming for a healthcare industry that’s already struggling with financing daily work demands.

IT professionals realize that the cost of securing their data with solutions like multi-factor authentication (MFA) is far less than the pay-out from ransomware or similar attacks. MFA is a solution that requires more than one piece of information to identify a user and then generates a one-time password on each login session, making it harder for hackers to steal passwords and other information.

2. Medical devices are an easy entry point for attackers

There aren’t many downsides to innovations in healthcare technology these days. Medical devices like x-rays, insulin pumps and defibrillators play a critical role in modern healthcare.  But for those in charge of online security and patient data protection, these new devices open up more entry points for attacks.  Medical devices fulfill specific purposes – like monitoring heart rates or dispensing drugs. Security is not a primary concern in design. Although the devices themselves may not store patient data, attackers can leverage devices to launch an attack on a server that does hold valuable information. In a worst-case scenario, hackers can completely take over a medical device, preventing healthcare organizations from providing necessary life-saving treatment to patients.

Hackers know that medical devices don’t contain any patient data themselves. However, they see them as an easy target, lacking the security found on other network devices like laptops and computers. Threats against medical devices can cause problems for healthcare organizations – giving hackers access to other network devices or letting them install costly ransomware. Secure network devices help limit the damage caused by an attack on medical devices.


3. Staff need to access data remotely, opening up more opportunities for attack

Collaborative working is vital in the healthcare industry, with units working together to provide the best solution for every patient. Those who need to access information aren’t always sitting at their desk – they are often working remotely from different devices.

Connecting to a network remotely from new devices is risky, as not all devices will be secure.  Additionally, healthcare staff are often unfamiliar with even the most basic cybersecurity best practices. Compromised devices must never gain access to the network, as just one hacked device can leave a whole organization wide open. One option for organizations with staff working across devices is risk-based authentication (RBA). This solution makes risk analysis simpler by letting IT staff set up policies that determine the risk of a given device based on factors like the user, their location and more. Any unusual activity is then flagged to ensure that unsafe devices cannot access sensitive patient data.

4. Workers don’t want to disrupt convenient working practices with the introduction of new technology

Healthcare staff are some of the busiest and most in-demand in the country. Staff work long hours and to tight deadlines – which means they don’t have the time or resources to add online security processes to their workload.  Medical professionals need slick working practices with minimal distractions.

Healthcare organizations need to assess the impact of any cybersecurity measures they want to implement. IT staff should try to align security measures with existing software. Many authentication solutions work seamlessly with software like Office 365, meaning medical staff can perform their daily tasks without distraction.

Using Single Sign-On (SSO) solutions means authorized users can access multiple applications using just one set of login information – keeping their working routines quick and straightforward without compromising security. Frictionless solutions like SSO and RBA offer adequate protection against online threats without disrupting how people work.


5. Healthcare staff aren’t educated on online risks

Medical professionals do not have the necessary expertise to recognize and mitigate online threats. Budget, resources, and time constraints mean it’s simply impossible for all healthcare staff to be fluent in cybersecurity best practices.

Cybersecurity solutions are complex, but their interface needs to be simple. Medical staff requires a secure network that is quick and easy to access. And they need the peace of mind of knowing that patient data are protected. Solutions like MFA and SSO are becoming more popular as they use a secure one-time code – adding extra layers of security that don’t require the user to know anything more than their login credentials.

6. The number of devices used in hospitals makes it hard to stay on top of security

Modern healthcare organizations are responsible for massive amounts of patient data, plus an extensive network of connected medical devices. Larger organizations can deal with thousands of medical devices connected to their network, each acting as a potential threat for attackers.

Healthcare staff are often too busy to stay educated on the latest threats to devices, leaving IT specialists with the task of protecting an entire hardware network against attacks. If just one device becomes compromised, it opens the whole network up to data breaches and medical device hacks.

There is a need for healthcare professionals to be able to manage their own devices to an extent – freeing up IT specialists to deal with broader IT and security issues within the network. Some MFA solutions offer a self-service portal, which allows users to reset security PINs and more by themselves, helping to lighten the workload on the support desk.

7. Healthcare information needs to be open and shareable

Confidential patient data needs to be accessible to staff, on-site and remotely, and on multiple devices. The typically urgent nature of the medical industry means a team needs to be able to share information immediately. There’s no time to pause and consider the security implications of their devices.

The worry for IT staff is that the devices used to share information are not always protected.  They can’t always be there to assess the credentials of every device, especially in a time-critical environment. Users accessing data remotely will only need privileges for their tasks to perform. So, if they’re checking their emails, they won’t need to have full admin account privileges—precautions like this limit the chance of admin accounts becoming compromised.

Any solution that can save time and money by automatically regulating user permissions without putting patient data at risk is a must-have for healthcare companies. MFA solutions prevent attacks from compromised credentials or unauthorized users to ensure only the right people can access sensitive data.


8. Smaller healthcare organizations are also at risk

All healthcare organizations are at risk from online threats. Large enterprises hold the most data, representing a bounty for attackers and placing them as common targets. But smaller enterprises have smaller security budgets.  Less complex and up-to-date cybersecurity solutions mean smaller enterprises are often seen as an easy target and a backdoor-access opportunity to target larger companies.

Effective cybersecurity solutions have become a must for healthcare organizations, as they’re all in charge of sensitive patient data. Healthcare leaders are becoming more aware of the need to increase spending on cybersecurity – and there are plenty of solutions out there that are scalable to different business sizes. MFA solutions provide extra layers of security to your devices, using a combination of user passwords and one-time information that works for your company, and prevent attackers from stealing login information.

9. Outdated technology means the healthcare industry is unprepared for attacks

For all the incredible advances in medical technology in recent years, not every aspect of the healthcare industry has kept pace. Limited budgets and a hesitancy to learn new systems often mean that medical technology is becoming outdated. Hospitals using techniques that still release system updates should keep all software equipped with the most recent version.

These usually contain bug fixes to keep systems reasonably secure.  But eventually, the software will become end-of-life, and vendors will stop providing updates.  Where it’s not feasible to upgrade to different, more secure software – or where medical staff don’t want the hassle – it’s possible to minimize the risk of cyberattacks by adding extra layers of security. If one system is compromised, then an MFA solution can limit the lateral movement of an attacker through the network, as they won’t be able to log in to other protected systems.

Healthcare organizations are responsible for reacting to the latest online threats to keep their patient data secure. It’s essential to allocate a budget and invest in the right solution for your enterprise. Consider how your staff like to work and keep on top of new threats as they emerge – before your systems become outdated and you struggle to protect all your devices.

Please look at our other articles for more tips on protecting your patients and their sensitive data against the threat of online attacks.


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