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Cybersecurity in Health Care: What We Know and Why It’s Important

What do you think of when you hear the word "cybersecurity"? If you’re anything like me, then this word can lead to a feeling of anxiety as headlines from the recent Equifax breach or the WannaCry attack flash across your mind. While cybersecurity can be an intimidating endeavor, take comfort in knowing that there are some straight forward steps that can be taken in order to strengthen cybersecurity in any industry. Before tackling preventative measures, however, we need to discuss what cybersecurity encompasses and its connection to health care.

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is "the body of technologies, processes, and practices designed to protect networks, computers, and data from attack, damage, and unauthorized access". This may seem like a lengthy definition, but it does cover all the aspects of cybersecurity and, more importantly, it highlights that cybersecurity is NOT just technology. Often, cybersecurity processes are more important than the technology itself in fending off malicious attackers.

Why is cybersecurity important in health care?

According to KPMG’s Cyber Healthcare & Life Sciences survey, 47% of health care providers reported instances of HIPAA violations or cyber attacks this year, rising 10% from the 2015 report. This number is only compounded by the increasing prevalence of connected devices, or the “Internet of Things,” which has contributed to the growth of new exploits that take advantage of lower security thresholds on these seemingly limited devices.

HIPAA’s Security Rule addresses some of the concerns that stem from having extremely valuable personal health information open to potential attacks by providing “a framework for managing risk.” The rule basically covers administrative safeguards, which includes performing risk analysis, designating security credentials, and training employees. This rule also details physical safeguards, which includes everything from locks on doors, to password protected workstations, to actual security guards. And finally, technical safeguards are also discussed, which is the part that you would more likely think of when you hear the word “cybersecurity” and includes things like access control and transmission security. While this framework gives broad suggestions on how to avoid potential security breaches, it doesn’t dive deep into specific suggestions, which begs the question:

What can we do to ensure our patients' health information is safe?

1. Stay up to date on industry trends and cybersecurity threats

One great resource to remain up to date is the HIMSS Cross-Sector Cyber Security reports. These reports are released frequently and include updates on attacks and vulnerabilities across health care and other industries.

2. Update systems regularly

A core lesson from the WannaCry attacks: updating software systems regularly and utilizing cloud-based systems (like pMD!) when possible to avoid running outdated versions of software can help ensure that known vulnerabilities are not left exposed.

3. Be wary of potentially harmful links

Spam email remains one of the top ways malware spreads throughout networks. Being vigilant of the links you click on and where you enter sensitive data is an easy way to avoid falling victim to phishing attacks.

4. Plan your response

If you do experience an attack, a response plan can help prevent exacerbating the situation through mismanagement. Coordinated response efforts are key to minimizing the impact of any attack and the plan should include addressing the root of the problem, not just the effects.

From employee training, to processes for handling sensitive patient data and reacting in the event of a violation, to technical specifications, one thing is clear: cybersecurity is a team effort.

If you have any questions about today’s blog post or would like to find out more about pMD's suite of products, which includes our MIPS registry, charge capture, secure messaging, and care coordination software and services, please contact pMD.

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