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Cybersecurity breaches represent a critical challenge in the healthcare sector, disrupting operations, compromising patient confidentiality, and causing delays in critical care delivery. The financial repercussions are substantial, but the real threat is to patient safety and the trust that is fundamental to healthcare systems. Proactively addressing these digital threats is imperative to maintain operational integrity and protect sensitive patient information.

Ransomware is a type of cyberattack that encrypts data, essentially holding it hostage until a ransom is paid. Unlike the encryption used to secure online banking transactions, which protects users, ransomware uses this technology maliciously. Healthcare organizations, including providers and their support systems, are particularly at risk. In 2023, 60% of healthcare organizations reported experiencing a ransomware attack, a significant increase from 34% in 2021.

Cyber Hygiene: The First Line of Defense

Good cyber hygiene can be likened to hand hygiene: simple yet effective steps can prevent ransomware attacks, akin to preventing the spread of viruses in the physical world. Although it doesn't involve literal handwashing, the principle of consistent application is similar to that of personal hygiene practices.

The incident involving Change Healthcare on February 21st, 2024, underscores the severity of these attacks. As the largest medical claims processor in the US, its breach potentially impacted over one million medical providers, affected one in three patient records, and compromised 15 billion transactions annually. The breach not only risked sensitive patient data but also disrupted medical authorizations and had long-term financial effects on healthcare providers.

Vulnerabilities in Healthcare Organizations

Healthcare organizations are vulnerable for several reasons, including reliance on third-party vendors, outdated technology, and the sensitive nature of healthcare data. Additionally, the sector's increased use of wireless technology for critical interventions and the focus on patient care over IT security in smaller practices exacerbate these vulnerabilities.

The most common avenue for ransomware attacks is through user error, such as opening suspicious emails, installing unauthorized software, or visiting harmful websites. Educating users about these risks and reinforcing safe practices are crucial preventative measures.

Enhancing Security: A Guide to Preventative Practices in IT

It's crucial to adopt key preventative practices at both user and technology levels to mitigate a wide range of IT security threats, including ransomware. Businesses are advised to already be in compliance with these practices. Specifically, for ransomware, educating individuals on the dangers and training them to avoid opening suspicious emails can significantly reduce risk.

For small or solo practices, safeguarding patient data and ensuring regulatory compliance, such as HIPAA, is non-negotiable. While time may be limited, prioritizing the security of patient health information (PHI) is essential. Although this article does not cover them, other security measures like video surveillance and visitor access control systems are also recommended.

Technical Practices for Strengthened Security

  • Strong and Secure Passwords: Implementing complex passwords that expire regularly can prevent unauthorized access. Simple passwords are easily compromised.
  • Patching and Updating: Ensuring that computer systems are updated with the latest security patches is vital. Many vendors offer automatic updates for convenience.
  • User Education: Regular education on security policies, including a one-hour online refresher course, can empower users to recognize and avoid threats such as phishing emails.
  • Multifactor Authentication (MFA): Adding an additional layer of security with MFA, typically through a temporary code sent to a user's smartphone, significantly enhances account security.
  • Regular Data Backups: In the event of a ransomware attack, having multiple backups, including at least one offsite, is a lifeline for restoring critical data.

Advanced IT Practices

While some security practices may seem daunting for those outside the IT field, such as implementing firewalls, email filters, and controlling program permissions, they are essential for comprehensive protection. For those able to adopt just one advanced measure, a Next Generation Firewall offers significant defense capabilities at a starting cost of under $300.

Implementing these foundational and technical practices enhances the security posture of any organization, reducing the risk of ransomware and other cyber threats. Regular updates, user education, and strategic investments in advanced technologies play a critical role in safeguarding information in an increasingly digital world.

Cyber Insurance for Healthcare Organizations

Cyber insurance offers an appealing security solution for small and medium-sized healthcare organizations uncertain about their cybersecurity posture. Similar to professional liability insurance, cyber insurance provides a layer of financial protection by covering costs related to technical recovery efforts and business expenses incurred during recovery from a cyber incident.

Typically, large enterprises invest heavily in cybersecurity measures to reduce their risk to an acceptable and manageable level. The cost of cyber insurance is often comparable to the investment required for implementing robust security measures. This makes cyber insurance a viable and cost-effective option for organizations looking to enhance their resilience against cyber threats.

How Can FPT Software Help? 

FPT Software can assist healthcare organizations in bolstering their cybersecurity. With over 30,000 employees, we offer comprehensive assessments, problem resolution, and ongoing maintenance to meet American standards. Our expertise provides an external perspective on security needs, risk management, and tailored solutions. Contact us to schedule an assessment with an experienced IT security professional at your convenience.

Author FPT Software