Understanding Why Health Institutions Need to Focus on Cybersecurity

Health Institutions

The healthcare industry all around the world has come a long way from what it once was and the technological disruption of industries can be said to be a driving contributor.

Thanks to technology, there are new and improved equipment that medical practitioners and patients can benefit from. Arguably, it can be said that none of the other ways by which technology has improved the lives of humans are as important as how it has improved the healthcare sector.

Popular Pandemics in Human History

Over the centuries, humans have had to deal with several pandemics – all of which shook every sector of the economy – healthcare, of course not excluded. For context, enlisted below are some of the pandemics that have rocked the healthcare industry over time:

  • The plague of Justinian – Circa 541 to mid-eight century;
  • The Black Death – Mid-14th century;
  • The Second Cholera Pandemic – Early 19th century;

Thankfully, Medicine is a science that takes pride in continual discoveries. Historians in the medical line suggest that the study of past pandemics can give contemporary doctors better insight into communicable diseases – most especially, pandemics.

The Pandemic that Stands Out – Cyberattack

It is no news what the COVID-19 virus is and what it has done to humans between 2019 up to the time of writing this article, May 2021. We have had and are still facing lock down situations in some parts of the world, repeated waves of this virus and sad but inevitable, teeming number of deaths. Thankfully, vaccines have been developed and are already being administered to combat the virus.

Worthy of note, all the pandemics mentioned earlier are health related. However, there is a peculiar one that has and is currently ravaging the healthcare sector, alongside others. This pandemic is “cyberattack”.

The New Oil – Right within the Healthcare Industry.

Only in a not so recent past did the healthcare sector start taking several hits from cybercriminals across the world. The reason for these myriad of attacks is not unconnected with the fact that data is the new oil. In the past couple of years, data has become a money-making rig that stakeholders in several industries have begun and are still exploring.

The possibilities of actions that can be performed with data are limitless and since personalized services became the new thing, the value of data has simply shot up. This reason and many more are why some elements look to get data illegally. Given these facts, what easier way is there to get data for cybercriminals than to go after one of the weakest industries in terms of cybersecurity?

Cybercriminals Digging for Oil

E-Health only just became popular and it is not surprising that the healthcare industry is facing these challenges. The high rate of cyberattack cannot also be separated from the fact that healthcare institutions hold one of “the juiciest data”.

The personally identifiable information (PII) and medical histories of people are the kind of data that can form actionable information about an individual’s life. If these details get into the wrong hands, there’s no telling how much financial, emotional or physical damage this might cause.

Putting the Risks Into Perspective

Understanding the cyber risks that the healthcare sector is exposed to will put a lot of things into perspective. Explained below are a number of them:

  • Malware: Also known as Malicious software, they are programs whose primary objectives are to compromise the system. The delivery and execution of malware is executed in close connection with phishing attacks.

    As much as system administrators may put in place security measures for dealing with such issues, more often than not, all it takes is a download of a compromised file for this attack to materialize. This malicious software can scramble data or leave a backdoor in the system through which hackers can continually exploit the system.
  • Personnel Risks: In as much as medical staff are sworn to taking care of patients, this does not mean that all of them would abide by their oath. Given that majority of the staff have access to patient data, especially those on the computer network, it is very possible for some criminals to steal these records for sale to the highest bidder.

    Going further, some might have access to the financial records of these patients and can also use this to commit financial fraud. In other cases, these patients are blackmailed or intimidated by criminals with such data.
  • Unsecured Devices: This is arguably the most common risk faced by healthcare institutions. Given the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and Work-from-home policy implemented by many institutions, organizational networks have been exposed to a record-high number of cyber attack attempts. Unscrupulous elements infiltrate the personal devices of medical staff in search of valuable information or simply place their program and wait till the person connects to the hospital network before the attack is launched.

How to Prevent Cyber Attacks

With a proper understanding of the risks in place, outlined below are some of the ways by which these attacks can be prevented:

  • Employee Education: Educating employees by organizing security workshops and training for them would help them realize the crucial role they play in aiding their organization’s effort in battling cyberattacks. A hotline or email could also be provided for them to contact directly should they suspect any form of attack on their device(s).
  • Secure Organization Network: It is okay to trust that employees would do the right thing but it is also wise to implement standard procedures to guard your organization’s network from attacks. You can achieve this by securing your network with a VPN, firewall and/or antivirus software. These are to provide secure connections, prevent unauthorized access and prevent viruses from getting into the system. This is actually the bare minimum and can protect both individuals and organizations.
  • Update System Software: Device and OS manufacturers often release updates for their products and push to their customers for them to download these updates. More often than not, these updates contain security patches and bug fixes which help to further strengthen the security of the device. Other times, they provide performance upgrades to the product which takes care of loopholes that can be exploited by hackers.

Conclusion

The healthcare industry is a very sensitive one and data security must be taken very seriously. Cyber criminals have realized the wealth of data that these institutions hold and this is why everyone, especially those working within a health facility should take their device security and that of the institution very seriously.