Strengthening Healthcare Cybersecurity

Safeguarding Patient Data in an Evolving Landscape

By Kevin Erdal, Managing Director and Practice Lead – Digital Health, Nordic Consulting
LinkedIn: Kevin Erdal
LinkedIn: Nordic Consulting

Healthcare providers are navigating a significant evolution in digital health capabilities as providers continue to fast-track digital adoption. Post-pandemic advancements in IT are becoming embedded across the healthcare enterprise and signal progress within clinical and operational outcomes. However, they also expand the number of vulnerable digital footprints and open the door to cyber threats. Now is the time for health IT leaders to address the heightened risks and improve healthcare cybersecurity.

Why is Health Data a Goldmine for Cybercriminals?

Healthcare records are particularly valuable to cybercriminals due to the comprehensive and sensitive personal data they contain. Unlike other data types, medical records include a range of data points stored over years that can be exploited and sold for various purposes.

Another significant appeal to cybercriminals is the high confidentiality of data collected about a patient beyond their health record. Social security numbers and passwords, for example, provide cybercriminals with critical information needed for identity theft. Healthcare records also hold high value because of the permanence of their information. Credit cards can be changed or canceled once fraud is detected, but health records’ personal and medical information is constant, ensuring that stolen data remains valuable over time.

Need for Heightened Cybersecurity Measures

With digital adoption accelerating during the pandemic and into the present, the parallel need for heightened cybersecurity strategy and operations is critical. Without such focus, healthcare organizations are particularly vulnerable to cyber threats like ransomware attacks. These attacks have compromised patient confidentiality and threatened the continuity of healthcare operations, underscoring an urgent need for strengthened cyber precautions.

The recent ransomware attack on Change Healthcare is a stark reminder of this vulnerability, which disrupted payment systems, halted cash flow, and jeopardized patient safety. This incident has made healthcare providers realize the importance of enhancing their cybersecurity infrastructure to safeguard against future threats, so much so that healthcare organizations are now prioritizing cybersecurity as their top digital investment for 2024, aiming to outpace the evolving capabilities of cyber attackers.

What can Health Systems do to Prepare?

To mitigate the fallout from cyberattacks, healthcare providers must diversify vendor relationships. Relying on a single platform for multiple processes can leave an organization overly dependent and vulnerable in the event of an attack. Establishing comprehensive business continuity with thoroughly tested and implemented plans can help ensure that providers are not left scrambling to revive processes taken down by cyber incidents.

Adopting a zero-trust security model is another crucial step in fortifying defenses against cyber threats. Operating with a “never trust, always verify” model minimizes potential avenues of attack by implementing robust verification at all possible points. These extra security checkpoints significantly hinder malicious actors’ ability to breach systems, even if they have obtained login credentials.

Furthermore, implementing round-the-clock threat detection is essential for constant monitoring. This strategy, possibly through a managed detection and response (MDR) service, ensures that a security team is always on hand to respond to any attempted breach. Regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing are also vital, as they help organizations stay ahead of the ever-changing threat environment.

As healthcare providers navigate the challenges of an increasingly digital landscape, the importance of strengthening cybersecurity measures cannot be overstated. By taking proactive steps to safeguard patient data, healthcare organizations can protect themselves against being targeted by cybercriminals.