Data Security in Healthcare

In today’s digital world, it is imperative to protect enterprise data across different environments and follow privacy protocols. In every domain, including retail, healthcare, finance, and supply chain management, businesses are thriving because of the availability of data.

Data is now central to all business strategies and forecasts. And because data is so important, it is also a source of vulnerability across industries. Hackers, cybercriminals, and others steal important information by exploiting the vulnerabilities in digital systems.

So how is healthcare data impacted by all of this?

As healthcare organizations adopting Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems more widely, new data formats are being used to improve diagnosis, treatment, and the overall process of handling patients. This means data needs to be stored over the cloud, which also means data has to be actively protected against malicious attacks. 

Healthcare faces an alarming number of data security threats. About 80% of the breaches across various sectors are in the healthcare industry.

Healthcare providers and a large number of people in the healthcare system use advanced technologies to monitor, check, and process health information.

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Data security in healthcare involves controlling access to the data and limiting it to only those who need the information thus protecting it from cybercriminals.

You may have read about the recent case of the UHS ransomware attack that could have compromised the personal information of millions of users. Thanks to the data security solutions, the attack was stopped at an early phase and so much of the data remained protected.

Importance of data security in healthcare

Healthcare providers and a large number of people in the healthcare system use advanced technologies to monitor, check, and process health information.

Apart from health monitoring watches and bands, their new innovations are now integral to our lifestyle. 

  • EHR (Electronic Health Records), 
  • Electronic devices that monitor vitals, and
  • Healthcare information management systems 

Both wireless and wired devices can synchronize with computers in real time and store massive amounts of personal information, including the user’s name, date of birth, address, phone number, ID, insurance information, place and position of work, and so on. Through this, hackers can access credit card or bank account details and much more.

The average cost of a healthcare data breach is $355 per record, more than twice that of other industry data.  PHI (or Protected Health Information) is very valuable on the market – selling for around $363 per person, much more that more generic personal data which may be valued at only $1-2 per person.  This is mainly because the data doesn’t change unlike the ID card or credit card details of a person. These details can then be used to claim fake insurance, and for various scams and digital thefts.

What are the potential security breaches in healthcare?

The US Department of Health and Human Services posted about 320 breaches in 2016 alone. If you take a look at IBM’s Data Breach reports, you’ll be surprised to know that the breaches started in full swing from 2015 with about 62% of security breaches (from 2010-2015) compromising millions of data records. 

Healthcare remains the most desirable target for attackers with the cost of one breached record being $429. 

The story doesn’t end here…

It can take about 236 days to detect a healthcare breach, as per reports from IBM. There were 502 healthcare data breaches in 2019 with about 41.2 million records being compromised due to illegal exposure or theft. 

Since attackers gain a lot of monetary gains from EHS, they constantly try to break every possible security system.

Network breaches

Mobile health apps, cloud, and IoT (Internet of Things) pose a high risk, as these technologies generate a lot of data that needs to be stored within a short time. Not having strong passwords or additional authentication can lead to malware attacks.

Internal data breaches

Internal agents or insiders like company employees can gain unauthorized access and steal confidential data. Many people enter an organization solely to access EHR for monetary gains or tax frauds.

Unintentional breach

Improper disposal of old data that is confidential but no longer required can lead to an unintentional breach. For example, discarding old machines without deleting data or accidentally sharing private data with a party who is not authorized to view it can lead to this type of breach.

As per Becker’s hospital review of 2013, 12% of the breaches happened due to accidental mistakes by staff leading to a compromise in patient’s health record data.

Drug supply chains

Each vendor who interacts with hospitals can be a potential cause for a data breach.

External data breaches

External factors include ransomware attacks, malware attacks, theft or misuse of cards, damage to physical documents, spyware, and phishing. More than 10 billion breaches that occurred from 2015-2019 are external.

Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Healthcare data security challenges

The healthcare industry faces data security challenges like:

  • Dependency on EHR to store data. As the records increase, the attacks increase, too.
  • Lack of updated infrastructure due to high cost and maintenance, making it easier for attackers to find loopholes.
  • The healthcare industry is connected with many service providers and vendors, making it difficult to underline the layer at which the breach occurred.
  • Information in medical records is less likely to change, thus can be cascaded and misused multiple times.
  • Many employees like nurses or administrative staff are unaware of cybersecurity threats and their seriousness.
  • Full-fledged acceptance of mobile technologies and cloud, leading to multiple data sources.

How to protect critical healthcare data?

Healthcare organizations can thwart security threats with a solid endpoint security strategy. To protect healthcare data, you need to take the following actions:

  1. Take strong user authentication and data encryption measures like access control, increasing the security layers, limiting data visibility, timeouts, locks, and automatic log-off. Provide two-step authentication for mobile devices.
  2. Keep the data updated at all times, creating backups, overwriting latent digital images, and conducting timely risk assessments. Set up protocols, create and maintain data audit trails.
  3. Properly dispose of physical equipment (like old laptops/computers) containing confidential data no longer in use, protect and upgrade hardware, and enforce control of device, media, and workstation-use.
  4. Educate staff about the importance of protecting data and guide them about compliance and breach policies.
  5. Implement biometric techniques like face recognition, eye scanning, and fingerprint authentication. Track suspicious activities based on user data and logs.

Summary

According to the HIPPA journal’s healthcare data breach statistics, breaches have increased from 18 to 510 records between 2009 and 2019. The worst year was 2015, with about 78.8k affected individuals. Healthcare suffers the most data security attacks, particularly by hackers, because of the nature of the information it carries. 

To provide robust data security in healthcare, adopt intelligent AI-based systems and stricter authorization measures.

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