Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of novel technologies like big data, AI, and cloud computing, we have started a global transition to remote and mobile healthcare services. While extremely convenient, this has led to a growing number of healthcare software data security threats.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Journal reports that over 2020 alone, when the pandemic was new and rising, over 30 million medical records were compromised.
Of course, user privacy standards regulate healthcare product security and other precautions we are already taking. However, cybercriminals still find ways to obtain the patient’s protected health information (PHI).
So do we underestimate the importance of data security in the industry? And what leads to health records being compromised in the first place? Are there any measures health organizations can and should take to ensure their healthcare product security?
The Importance of Data Security in Healthcare Systems
To start with, what is the sensitive information that needs to be protected when developing healthcare systems? PHI includes information on the patients:
- identities, like their legal name, home address, and social security number
- medical history
- insurance coverage
- lab test results
When PHI is exposed, which is usually because of poor data security of the organization, there are some highly harmful consequences to the healthcare provider and the patient. Penalties, costly lawsuits, and compensation fees led to substantial financial (and reputation, too) losses for the organization providing medical information services — a total of over $9M in 2021.
As for the patients, stolen PHI may result in identity theft and blackmailing to obtain the information back. Besides, this poses a threat to their health because of the inability to access medical history and treatment reports.
Common Healthcare Data Security Challenges
So how do data breaches occur in organizations providing medical information services? Here are the top 6 challenging data security bottlenecks in healthcare.
1. Issues With Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
EHRs have enhanced the customer experience in the healthcare industry — patients and doctors can access patients’ records easily and fast across various devices. Health information exchanges (HIEs) also take little time and enable productive collaboration between departments and organizations.
But the fact that patients’ sensitive information is stored digitally poses a risk of it being exposed; in fact, the number of compromised EHRs doubled from 2019 to 2021. Cybercriminals obtain the records through phishing, data breach, or because of a third-party system fragility during HIE.
2. Using Outdated Software
When using outdated software solutions in your medical organization, there is a high risk of a loophole in your healthcare product security system. The reason is that software vendors only support updating the most recent versions of their tools. So, they stop providing security patches for older software versions.
Eventually, the chances of a system vulnerability increase drastically, and hackers will be quick to make the most use of the situation. The good thing is that this challenge is manageable — timely and careful software updates from the tech department help prevent any related security issues.
3. Ransomware Attacks
A ransomware attack implies that a person or an organization loses access to their files, and the way to get it back is by paying the cyberattacker. The most common ways to steal keys are phishing and software or VPN configuration vulnerabilities.
While ransomware attacks’ most common goal was returning the data after they paid, the attackers have brought it to the next level. Now, they promise to expose the sensitive data of their patients unless they get the ransom payment. And this puts the reputation of the organization and the patient’s identity at risk.
4. User Errors & Insider Threats
Insider threat implies the security threat caused by the people who work/worked at an organization, and usually, any employee can access 20% of sensitive files belonging to the facility. So any data breach caused by the fault of doctors, medical staff, or any other current or former employee can occur.
For example, sending a patient’s medical record details via email or text poses a huge security threat. Similarly, storing the data on a personal device and sharing it while using public Wi-Fi leads to a high chance of the information being easily accessed by a cybercriminal.
With this, the lack of regular employee and patient training on treating sensitive information increases the risk of a data breach.
5. Growing Use of Telehealth & Mobile Healthcare Apps
The global pandemic has led to the rapid development of mobile telemedicine applications. It means that people use their smartphones and tablets to access medical information services without actually going to the hospital. While telehealth solutions provide convenience and accessibility for all patients, it also introduces new security risks.
Patients may not treat the information they share as sensitive and omit security measures like activating multi-factor authentication or setting a solid password. They can also use the mobile app from their devices while connected to unprotected networks, providing numerous opportunities for cybercriminals to obtain their data.
Besides, when it comes to wellness app development, these do not require as much compliance to industry user privacy standards as other types of healthcare software development. That leads to another security threat if users share personal information, including their payment info.
6. Cloud and IoT Vulnerabilities
The use of the Internet of Things (IoT) and migrating to the cloud is a common effort among healthcare organizations because of how it speeds up operations. But since the technologies are still on the rise, the solutions often lack built-in security protection to keep the data safe.
In fact, more than half of healthcare organizations have recently experienced an associated security incident. The data that travels back and forth between devices and servers is mostly encrypted on the go, which makes the system prone to third-party intrusions.
Besides, poor cloud computing configuration leads to the same level of security threat, making cloud and IoT an ambiguous direction in terms of data security.
How to Ensure Data Security in Healthcare Systems
Here are the measures your healthcare organization can take to enhance data security.
User privacy standards and regulations in the healthcare sector vary across countries, but the most known are HIPAA and GDPR:
- HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and operates in the US.
- GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation and works in the EU.
Regardless of the location of your organization, noncompliance with industry standards threatens data security, not to mention the loss of reputation and penalties.
Data Access Control Through User Authentication
Access restriction to patients’ data for employees that do not need to work with it is an effective way to reduce the chances of data breaches and inside threats. By limiting access to patients and doctors, users will have to authorize to use the data. That provides more control and security over the data.
Constant data encryption in your healthcare software makes your data more secure regarding safe cloud storage, connectivity, and data transmission. Besides, encryption helps prevent third-party users from being able to access, modify or delete information from the patient’s records.
Timely Software Updates
Keeping up with the software updates may seem like a lot of work, but it will cost you a lot more if a vulnerability of your legacy software ends up causing a data breach or ransomware attack. Vendors update their software to ensure it functions correctly and is secure — your team needs to keep up with the updates.
You can take all the measures to ensure the security of your organization’s data. Still, it will be in vain if users neglect the fundamental rules, like sharing or storing sensitive information inappropriately. So make employee training on digital hygiene a regular practice in your organization to minimize the risk of insider threats and user errors.
Internal Security Audits
Running a check-up of your internal IT infrastructure is also essential for data security in your organization. Moreover, this audit activity should regularly test your internal system for malfunctions and vulnerabilities. This way, you will be able to identify and fix them before cybercriminals can use them to their advantage.
Solutions for Data Security in Healthcare Systems
So what kind of solutions should you integrate into the system of your healthcare organization to boost data security? Here are the ones to start with:
- antivirus software
- data encryption protocols
- back-up and recovery solutions
- system monitoring software
- custom solutions
The size and complexity of your healthcare system define the scale of your data security software solutions.
So you may want to consider building a custom solution if:
- your organization has a complex IT infrastructure
- you are migrating to cloud computing and IoT
- you have to use legacy software
- your security requirements are unique
Poor data security in a healthcare organization leads to severe threats and losses for the organization and the patients. But understanding the data security challenges and taking measures to tackle them helps protect patients’ data and minimize the risks. If you plan to work on the security of your organization’s data, contact us to develop a custom cybersecurity solution.