Cybersecurity Trends in The Healthcare Industry

Frankie Wallace


The healthcare Industry contains private and sensitive information about millions of patients in every country. Therefore, it’s no wonder that in 2017, it was the target of over 50 percent of cyber-attacks. Loaded with identity-revealing information like social security numbers, dates of birth, billing information and, of course, health insurance information, these details can be used for any number of fraudulent actions.

Cyber-criminals can use this private information to illegally request prescription drugs. Additionally, they make fraudulent claims to healthcare providers and even sell the information to people who need medical care. The healthcare industry contains lots of sensitive data. Therefore, data security in the healthcare industry is becoming a top priority across hospitals. Additionally, medical and insurance offices across the country are also investing in cybersecurity. As new data breaches occur more often, new trends for cybersecurity are being practiced by IT and data security professionals.

Healthcare Industry Cybersecurity and Data Breaches

Establishing strong security practices is crucial to keeping patient and employee information safe within the healthcare industry. As internet of things (IoT) technology becomes a more integral part of day-to-day hospital and administrative practices, these areas become even more susceptible to cyberattacks. Although stealing private information is one of the main concerns when breached by cyberthieves, there are many other immediate concerns in data breaches.

SQL injection attacks can compromise patient and employee data and affect millions of people in the long run, leaving them open to identity theft and the damage control that follows. Still, malware can also have a fast and serious impact on healthcare industry operations. In hospitals where patient files and basic administrative information is kept online, ransomware can encrypt patient and hospital information, holding it hostage until a ransom is paid, which can prevent medical professionals from helping their patients.

Just last year, a ransomware attack occurred at East Ohio Regional Hospital, causing the hospital to close their emergency room to ambulances, take a portion of their systems offline, and to use paper files rather than their standard online charts. Fortunately, they had ample defenses in place, which meant the hackers were unable to get through both security layers. Although their systems were disrupted, no patient files were exposed, and there was no ransom paid to the hackers.

The often life-or-death necessity of information in the healthcare industry makes cyber-attacks a frightening threat for hospitals, which once again emphasizes the importance of data breach prevention. Investing the time and effort to secure operations can be a much easier situation than attempting to deal with cyber-criminals when they are already in the system.

Trends in Data Security

New information is constantly being discovered in the cybersecurity field. Due to the nature of software updates that are mass distributed across all technology to make it more efficient, fix previous errors, and regularly change coding information to keep hackers at bay, the cybersecurity community has to also constantly keep up with the continually transforming data.

Shadow IT

One security risk that is becoming more common due to consumerism in the healthcare industry is shadow IT. Shadow IT refers to technology or software, like cloud services or SaaS applications, that run without the awareness or approval of the IT department. These softwares are often installed by unwary employees who are simply looking for tech that is easier to use than the software approved by their IT department.

While keeping patients connected to their physicians is an incredible and potentially life-saving benefit, the influx of devices brought into hospitals that have not undergone proper IT-sanctioned solutions poses several potential risks. These risks include data loss, exposure to software errors, and data protection compliance issues.

Personal Devices

It is usually a hospital’s IT department’s responsibility to promptly apply updates that are meant to repair software vulnerabilities found in operating system products. However, they are unable to do this with products and services that the hospital does not own or that they don’t know are present. This is more common today than ever because employees in the healthcare industry want to use their personal technology and software in their workflow as it may be more convenient at times.

This results in consumer IT finding its way into the office, leaving company information vulnerable to hackers, as those in charge did not develop the products with a company-specific security focus. Examples of these products include free, easy-to-use applications, such as file-sharing technologies like Dropbox, Google Drive, and other Google Apps. A similar risk is posed when employees wish to connect their personal devices, like laptops and smartphones, with company software applications without going through the IT department.

To mitigate the risk associated with shadow IT, IT departments are teaching hospital employees about the need to use only hospital-secured devices as part of their workday technology. They are also using shadow IT discovery tools to detect unapproved applications and take action quickly to prevent dangerous ramifications. Finally, when it comes to patient portal software, IT departments are teaming up with high-quality software developers to encrypt patient information.

Automation and AI

Now that automation and AI technology have become more accessible than ever, their value is being more readily explored by the healthcare industry to gain a full view of the data at their hands. When it comes to noticing abnormal system behavior that might give a sign to a data breach or other security event, machine learning technologies pose incredible value.

Automated tech is able to analyze an abundance of information and data points within a matter of seconds, making it a valuable technology in finding outliers where an initial breach may have occurred. Therefore, hospitals that make the investment into AI stand to better secure their hospital and patient information. Additionally, they will have more details available to them regarding the information that was accessed. This can help them inform patients about the breach when necessary.

Email Security

Email phishing is a very common but problematic security breach that occurs across all industries. Even in the healthcare industry, phishing rates are up, as hackers rely on human oversight to access their information. Today, hackers are becoming smarter in their phishing by imitating reputable sites and finding unexpected moments to steal security info.

To avoid falling into phishing traps, hospitals should invest in security software that flags and redirects any phishing email to keep them from employees. Hospitals should also have their employees change their passwords regularly to keep hackers from potentially breaking into their personal accounts.

Blockchain Security

Blockchain systems are used to record transactions using a lasting but efficient method known as “smart contracts”. These contracts keep the information throughout several databases. These systems embed contracts in a code that no entity can change. This could potentially make hospital transactions between parties more efficient and safe.

According to Duquesne University, “With blockchain, a ledger will store health data but not identification. Users will have a secure address with keys in their wallet. This patient-mediated health data exchange network will improve the efficiency of health data flow across the healthcare industry, and it can allow patients to see who is accessing their data and for what purpose.”

Each year, data security trends change as we discover new cyber-attacks developing. As more of the world integrates advanced technology into their day-to-day lives, cybersecurity risks become a more dangerous and legitimate threat. Although the healthcare industry is advancing along with other industries, the information in the healthcare industry is particularly sensitive. To keep this information safe, healthcare IT departments must be extra careful in keeping up with security trends to ensure their data is secure at all times.


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