Cybersecurity in Healthcare: 8 Basic Terms You Need to Know

Mike Jann

By Mike Jann

Managing healthcare cybersecurity can be a serious challenge for busy healthcare providers. Healthcare data is highly prized on the black market — even five times more valuable than a social security number — making cybersecurity a top concern for all healthcare practices. On top of other healthcare cybersecurity concerns, you must also navigate complex HIPAA regulations and a complex IT infrastructure while always keeping patient wellbeing front of mind. To make matters worse, cybersecurity experts can cite many unfamiliar technical terms, it can feel hard to follow and keep up.

The good news is that you don't need to know "malware" from "ransomware" to better protect your patient data from cybercriminals. Here's a short beginner's glossary of useful terms used for cybersecurity in healthcare and what they mean for your healthcare organization.

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1. Data Breach

A data breach is an incident when data is accessed without authorization and sometimes without the knowledge of the system's owner.

What healthcare providers should know: Healthcare organizations are particular at risk of data breaches because healthcare data is considered some of the most valuable data in the world. Data breaches are on the increase in healthcare. In 2020, there were nearly 600 reported healthcare data breaches affecting more than 26 million people (the actual number of data breaches was likely much higher). A comprehensive cybersecurity strategy is needed to help keep patient data protected.

2. Cyberattack

A cyberattack refers to any hostile attempt to gain access to a system or information network with the intention to alter, steal, access, and/or disable information.

What healthcare providers should know: Cyberattacks in the healthcare sector are becoming increasingly sophisticated. To prevent attacks requires a never-ending process involving vigilant testing, constant evolutions and optimizations, consistent monitoring, and training for the entire staff on security awareness, among other best practices. Healthcare providers are strongly recommended to work with a healthcare managed services provider to better ensure their information systems remain safe from attack around the clock.

3. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is the ongoing process of keeping information systems and data safe from unauthorized access, theft, and loss.

What healthcare providers should know: Healthcare cybersecurity isn't just an IT issue — it's a major operational and financial concern. A data breach can cost as much as $499 per breached record — and that's not to mention the damage it can do to patient trust and your organization's brand reputation. For healthcare providers, keeping your patients' data safe should be taken as seriously as your patients' wellbeing.

4. Encryption

Data encryption is a way of keeping data secure. Encrypted data is encoded so that only a user with the correct key can access it. To unauthorized viewers, the data will look scrambled or unreadable.

What healthcare providers should know: Nearly 60% of healthcare data breaches involve the loss or theft of hardware containing unencrypted patient data. In fact, HIPAA recommends all sensitive patient data to be encrypted while stored and being transferred.

5. Firewall

A firewall acts as a barrier between the internet and your computer systems, providing a first line of defense against cyberattacks. You can set up a detailed list of instructions so that your firewall knows which information to permit in and out of your network.

What healthcare providers should know: To remain HIPAA compliant, you will need to log all attempts to access your network. This will also help to flag any malicious activities, such as repeated attempts to access your systems by an unauthorized user or device.

6. Information Security

While cybersecurity refers only to digital information, information security is the term used to describe the protection of all forms of confidential information. In healthcare, this might include patient records stored on paper, medical device printouts, or physical assets like hardware and printers.

What healthcare providers should know: Keeping your organization secure and HIPAA compliant is not only a question of protecting your digital data. You will also need to consider aspects of security such as who has physical access to the organization, how easy it is to view patient data on your employees' screens, and how to monitor and manage all the hardware used to store medical information.

7. Malware and Ransomware

Malware is software that is used to commit cybercrimes. Of all the types of malware currently circulating, ransomware is one of the most common in the healthcare sector. When ransomware is introduced into a computer network, it will prevent authorized users from accessing the data stored in the system. Cybercriminals will often demand a payment, usually in the form of a cryptocurrency, to release the data.

What healthcare providers should know: There are many different types of ransomware, and healthcare providers are especially vulnerable to ransomware attacks. Access to patient data can hold life or death consequences, which can compel healthcare organizations to pay the ransom despite the lack of assurances that cybercriminals will release the data and the FBI's recommendation that victims of ransomware attacks not pay the ransom.

That's why prevention is key. To keep your data secure, you will need a complete healthcare cybersecurity program as well as staff training to better ensure everyone is using safe browsing habits that can reduce the likelihood that an organization will fall victim to a ransomware attacked. At MedicusIT, we recommend the use of a Medi-Filtering service, which allows you to block websites not related to your business to help avoid exposing your network to malware online. We also offer Medi-Security, which blocks suspicious downloads.

Also essential: a strong data backup and recovery process, which includes routine verification of successful data backups. Since there is no foolproof mechanism to protect an organization from ransomware, you will always want the ability to restore your systems from a backup made before you were infected.

8. Patch Management

Patches are the updates that software and hardware developers release between new versions of software. These patches usually address bugs and vulnerabilities. It's important to use the latest version of all your systems and software programs, especially anti-malware and anti-virus solutions. This is because cybercriminals can target vulnerabilities in software if you use outdated versions.

What healthcare providers should know: To keep your software up to date, you'll need to create and maintain an inventory of all your systems, software platforms, and security controls. You will then need to compare your inventory against reported vulnerabilities on an ongoing basis. Managing security risks is a constant process — not a one-and-done event. For peace of mind, it's wise to partner with a managed IT services provider, so you can be better assured that your software is always updated with the latest patches.

Best Practices for Cybersecurity in Healthcare

In healthcare cybersecurity, you don't only need to worry about keeping patient data out of the hands of cybercriminals. You are also responsible for complying with extensive HIPAA regulations concerning how patient data is stored, communicated, and accessed. Maintaining HIPAA compliance isn't easy. Changes to IT systems, employees, and how your organization operates can increase the risk of non-compliance, penalties, and fines.

When you partner with a managed IT services provider experienced with HIPAA compliance like Medicus IT, healthcare cybersecurity becomes a challenge you can tackle with support, knowledge, and solutions delivered by healthcare technology experts. To learn more about how Medicus IT will help keep your patient data secure, please get in touch with us.

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