The threats to healthcare cybersecurity grow more complex every day. The industry continues to be a top target for cybercriminals. It leads all other verticals as the one with the most data breaches, and it experienced 1,410 cyberattacks a week in 2022—an increase of 86%. With such a risky landscape, how do you improve healthcare cybersecurity to meet these new demands?
There’s no one single answer to this question. It requires a multi-pronged strategy that encompasses all threats and vulnerabilities. It’s also an ongoing process that must be agile enough to respond to what’s next in the hacker acumen.
Proactive tactics are necessary, including having a defensive and offensive security strategy. After many years of assisting healthcare organizations with cybersecurity, we’ve defined these tips as a solid foundation.
Healthcare Cybersecurity Is Complicated
There’s no doubt that improving healthcare cybersecurity is a complex landscape. The factors that make it so include the following:
- Patient data is a critical part of healthcare operations and contains electronic personal health information (ePHI).
- All ePHI is subject to the rules of HIPAA.
- Sharing ePHI is crucial between applications, but issues are often related to legacy systems, integrations, and interoperability.
- Connected medical device usage is increasing; many live on an organization’s networks. They add new endpoints and opportunities for hackers to infiltrate your systems.
- Healthcare IT teams are often understaffed and overburdened, making it difficult to be more proactive.
- Healthcare has been migrating to the cloud for applications and data (around 70% have already done so), opening up new threats.
It’s an intricate web of risk that’s challenging to navigate for any healthcare entity, regardless of size. Combating all these threats alone is often not sustainable, creating the need for cybersecurity partnerships.
As a result, cyber resilience is more attainable and viable. Following these tips can be the difference between a secure system and becoming a cyberattack statistic.
How to Improve Healthcare Cybersecurity
With these tactics and techniques, you can be prepared and proactive in your pursuit of keeping networks safe.
1. Securing the Cloud Best Practices
The cloud offers flexibility and the ability to store and analyze data more efficiently and effectively. However, it doesn’t come without risk. Moving to the cloud alleviates many pressures on internal teams and high costs for servers. It’s clear that it has advantages, and security in the cloud has evolved to include many layers of protection. To reap the benefits of the cloud, you must also assume risk. However, you can do this with confidence when you follow these healthcare cloud best practices:
- Use pen testing to simulate cyberattacks that focus on cloud vulnerabilities: Cloud pen tests offer insights into the weaknesses of your cloud infrastructure and configurations.
- Evaluate all cloud options: There are public, private, and hybrid cloud deployments. Each has pros and cons, along with different costs. Work with a healthcare cloud expert to design the cloud ecosystem that meets your needs.
- Encrypt all data: Practice data encryption, whether in transit or at rest.
- Retire legacy systems: These are often your weak link in cloud migrations. Your best move is to move data from these applications to the cloud. Then, the data can be available when you bring in its replacement.
2. Supply Chain Security Fundamentals
Another concern for healthcare is supply chain security. Third parties with access to your networks must do so for business operations. You can’t mitigate all this risk, but you can be vigilant.
You can address this by:
- Establishing a third-party risk management program
- Performing ongoing vulnerability assessments and pen tests related to these connections
- Developing a PAM (privileged access management) framework
3. Ransomware Beware: Protecting Against These Attacks
Ransomware has become hackers’ favorite attack technique, and 41% of healthcare organizations have dealt with one. Cybercriminals realize that hospitals and healthcare systems cannot function if systems are disrupted. It could literally be a life-or-death situation.
Hackers look at healthcare as a “soft” target because of the many gaps, from legacy system usage to being understaffed to complex networks. As a result, the industry is eager to thwart these and invest in measures to do so.
The best way to prevent ransomware is with these tactics. Continuous vulnerability assessments and HIPAA penetration tests are a must. You’ll also want to initiate regular, never-ending use training on security. Robust endpoint protection, regular data backups in a separate location, applying access controls, and network segmentation also round out the best practices.
4. Managing the New Horizon of AI and Machine Learning
AI and machine learning bring a bounty of opportunities for healthcare. They can automate workflows, support diagnosis and treatment, and offer data analysis for research and population health. While these advancements are promising, there’s another side—hackers weaponizing them.
In terms of cybersecurity, to protect against their use by cybercriminals, you’ll need to assess the level of risk. Hackers aren’t using AI and machine learning at high rates—yet. However, as AI becomes “easier” to harness for bad with the introduction of ChatGPT, you need an offensive approach. It should encompass specific ways to use vulnerability assessments, pen tests for these risks, and update incident response plans.
5. Going on the Offensive with Cybersecurity
The next tip focuses on proactive security measures. By building an offensive security strategy, you have greater visibility into potential threats and weaknesses.
There are three main tactics to use in developing your offensive approach:
- Pen testing: These exercises should be continuous. As there are many types, methods, and access levels, work with the testing firm on what your pen test strategy should include.
- Vulnerability assessments: These aim to find missing patches or configurations. Identifying and addressing these before a hacker exploits them is central to offensive cybersecurity.
- Social engineering and phishing testing: In this technique, you’re assessing the ability of your employees to identify and report a phishing email. Adding social engineering dynamics so that the email seems more legitimate further evaluates their retention of security training. Based on the results, you can determine improvements in training.
6. Adopting a Risk-Based Approach for Hospital IoT and IoMT
Connected medical devices are a key component of care delivery for patients in the hospital. However, they pose cyber threats to hospital IoT and IoMT networks. Attacks on these have led to adverse outcomes, including delays in care, longer patient stays, increased complications, and higher mortality rates.
With a risk-based approach developed with healthcare cybersecurity, apply this framework:
- Elimination of risk: Work with your partner firm to discern if there are risks within connected devices you can eliminate. These should be things that aren’t critical to the devices operating properly.
- Mitigation of risk: You can’t eliminate every risk, so you move to mitigation. Instead, turn to strategies to understand the level of risk with vulnerability assessments and pen tests.
- Transfer of risk: If you don’t have internal staff to monitor and optimize your IoT and IoMT network, tap your healthcare cyber firm to do this for you.
- Acceptance of risk: Finally, you have to accept some risk that you can’t eliminate, mitigate, or transfer. These things are often less risky, but you’re not creating blind spots. Rather, you’re prioritizing what’s most important in the threat landscape.
7. Ensuring Your HIPAA Security Risk Analysis Is Appropriate
The HIPAA Security Rule requires that any covered entities and business partners perform these relating to the use of ePHI. You could be subject to fines if deemed insufficient by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). To avoid this, you want to follow these attributes that demonstrate sufficiency.
- The scope should be inclusive and clear.
- It must involve the complete classification of ePHI.
- Identifying and documenting vulnerabilities and threats must be thorough.
- It must assess your current security measures and the likelihood of a threat occurrence.
- The analysis should define the impact of a threat occurrence and conclude with the level of risk of your organization.
A HIPAA security risk assessment is vital for compliance and keeping ePHI secure. By partnering with an experienced group of HIPAA security risk assessors, you put yourself in the best position to avoid encountering fines from the OCR.
8. Depending on Outside Expertise to Lessen the Impact of Staff Shortages
There has been a common thread throughout these tips—technical resources are imperative to improving healthcare cybersecurity. There is a significant shortage of cybersecurity workers, and it’s affecting every industry. Healthcare isn’t immune to this and may have it worse than others.
If you can’t fill the positions, more work accumulates for your existing staff. This leads to burnout and mistakes. Additionally, many preventative measures require specialized skills. Thus, it’s rare that healthcare can manage cybersecurity alone. Outsourcing some or all of cybersecurity can reduce the effects of staff shortages. This same firm can handle your vulnerability assessments and pen tests.
Improve Healthcare Cybersecurity with Blue Gator
These tips will help you achieve a more consistent and preventative cybersecurity culture. Risk is inherent, but there’s much you can do about it. Our healthcare cyber experts are here to carry some of that burden. Find out all we offer by requesting a discovery meeting with our team.