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Cybersecurity in Healthcare: Protecting Patient Data

The healthcare industry is a prime target for data breaches due to the sensitive nature of the medical and financial information it holds. Stolen patient records can sell for anywhere between $250 and $1,000 each on the Dark Web. Compare this to credit card numbers at $5 and Social Security numbers at merely $1 each.

Patient records contain a wealth of personal and medical information, including names, addresses, medical histories, insurance details, and even Social Security numbers. This data is highly sought after by cyber criminals for various malicious purposes, such as identity theft, insurance fraud, and blackmail. What’s more, the data isn’t easily canceled like a stolen credit card number, meaning it has long-term usage possibilities.

In the sections ahead, we look at the types of cyberattacks that put patient data at risk, cybersecurity solutions for the healthcare industry, and how Gurucul helps healthcare organizations secure protected health information (PHI).

The Importance of Cybersecurity in Healthcare

Healthcare organizations have some of the most challenging environments to secure. They have geographically dispersed clinical locations, large amounts of sensitive patient and financial data, a range of transitory mobile devices and users, connected life-saving medical devices (known as the Internet of Medical Things, or IoMT), and numerous healthcare applications and systems. The attack surface is often large and vulnerable. Thus, it’s no surprise healthcare is a leading target of cyber criminals’ intent on obtaining lucrative sensitive data or on disrupting services for ransom payouts.

At the same time, this industry has some of the strictest data protection regulations, with HIPAA, HITECH, and PCI DSS among the regulatory guardrails. Compliance is a constant challenge; especially as so much sensitive data is required to be stored in Electronic Health Records (EHRs).

Cybersecurity is an essential protective measure for every healthcare organization, from the smallest practices to the largest hospitals. Patient safety and privacy both demand strong cybersecurity measures in healthcare.

The State of Cybersecurity Preparedness in Healthcare

Healthcare Stakeholders

The healthcare industry involves a wide range of stakeholders who play different roles in protecting patients’ protected health information. Here are some key stakeholders:

  • Patients – At the center of it all, patients are responsible for providing up-to-date and accurate information, and for verifying its use in patient care and billing services.
  • Healthcare Providers – Doctors, nurses, physicians, surgeons, specialists, and other medical professionals who provide direct patient care interact with PHI as they diagnose, treat, and manage patients’ medical conditions. Their input is also essential for the financial (billing) aspects of care.
  • Hospitals and Clinics – These are healthcare facilities where patients receive medical services. Every action they take on behalf of a patient requires interaction with PHI.
  • Health Insurance Companies – Insurance companies provide coverage and financial protection against healthcare expenses. They utilize PHI to determine eligibility for services and to process invoices for services rendered.
  • Healthcare IT and Data Management Companies – These entities develop and manage healthcare information systems, electronic health records (EHRs), health data analytics platforms, and other technologies that facilitate efficient healthcare operations and secure data management.

Types of Cyber Attacks in the Healthcare Sector

The healthcare industry is susceptible to various types of cyber-attacks. Some common types of cyberattacks that can affect the healthcare sector include:

  • Data Breaches – Data breaches involve unauthorized access, disclosure, or theft of sensitive data. Healthcare organizations are particularly vulnerable to data breaches due to the value of medical records and personally identifiable information (PII) they store.
  • Insider Threats  – Insider threats refer to malicious or negligent actions by individuals with authorized access to healthcare systems and data. These insiders may intentionally misuse or steal data, or their actions may unintentionally lead to data breaches.
  • Ransomware Attacks – Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts data on a victim’s system, rendering it inaccessible until a ransom is paid. Healthcare organizations are common targets for ransomware attacks, which can disrupt healthcare operations and compromise patient care. Private patient data is sometimes stolen and sold on the Dark Web as the result of a ransomware attack, regardless of whether the ransom is paid.
  • Phishing Attacks– Phishing involves tricking individuals into revealing sensitive information or downloading malware through deceptive emails, websites, or messages. Healthcare employees may be targeted to gain unauthorized access to patient data, financial information, or login credentials.
  • Malware Infections – Malware, including viruses, worms, and trojans, can infiltrate healthcare networks and systems, compromising data integrity and confidentiality. Malware can be introduced through malicious email attachments, infected websites, or compromised devices.
  • Supply Chain Attacks – Healthcare organizations rely on a complex ecosystem of providers, vendors, and suppliers. Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in the supply chain to gain unauthorized access to healthcare systems or introduce malicious code into software or hardware components.

How Cyber Threat Prevention in Healthcare Works

Cyber threat prevention in healthcare involves implementing various measures to identify, mitigate, and prevent potential cyber threats from compromising the security and integrity of healthcare systems and patient data. Organizations generally start with a comprehensive risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities, potential threats, and their potential impact on healthcare systems and patient data.

Next, they develop and implement security policies and procedures that outline best practices, guidelines, and protocols for protecting healthcare systems and data. Then it’s time to implement security measures to protect against both internal and external threats. Organizations must secure all endpoints, including computers, servers, mobile devices, and medical equipment, by deploying endpoint protection software. Ongoing monitoring and analysis of events, activities, and behaviors help in detecting and blocking suspicious activities.

It’s also important to conduct regular vulnerability assessments and apply software patches and updates to address known vulnerabilities in operating systems, applications, and medical devices.

Given that people are often the weakest link in cybersecurity, organizations must educate healthcare personnel about cyber threats, social engineering techniques, and safe computing practices. Regular training sessions can help employees recognize phishing emails, avoid malicious websites, and understand their role in maintaining cybersecurity.

It’s critical to develop a detailed incident response plan that outlines the steps to be taken in the event of a security incident. This includes procedures for detection, containment, eradication, and recovery, as well as communication protocols and coordination with relevant stakeholders.

By implementing these preventive measures, healthcare organizations can significantly reduce the likelihood of cyber threats, protect patient data, and maintain the integrity of critical healthcare systems.

Cybersecurity in Healthcare: Use Cases

Identifying indicators of a malicious insider can be challenging, as their behavior may vary based on their motivations and the specific context of their actions. However, there are certain indicators that organizations can look out for to detect potential malicious insider activity. Here are some common indicators:

  • Ransomware Protection
    Ransomware is a huge threat to healthcare organizations worldwide, with dozens of groups actively targeting the sector. Critical data is not only being encrypted by these groups but also stolen and posted for sale on the Dark Web. Leading cybersecurity solutions can detect ransomware in its earliest stages and prevent it from executing successfully.
  • Threat Detection and Response
    Threat detection and response uses a combination of technology, skilled personnel, and well-defined procedures, aiming to minimize the dwell time of threats, reduce the potential impact of security incidents, and help organizations recover quickly and strengthen their security posture.
  • Insider Threat Detection and Deterrence
    Insider threats are a potent risk for every healthcare provider. Who wouldn’t like a peek at a VIP’s medical records? Whether an employee, affiliate, or third-party provider is malicious or just careless, a data breach can be costly and can lead to brand damage and regulatory fines. Tools that use behavioral identifiers, machine learning models, and artificial intelligence can accurately detect and mitigate insider threats before damage is done.
  • Healthcare Provider and Consumer Fraud
    Some cybersecurity solutions are geared toward analyzing data to look for instances of fraud, which is rampart in the healthcare industry.
  • Privileged Access Abuse
    Privileged accounts are prone to social engineering (phishing), account takeovers, and other theft techniques that allow an attacker to misuse legitimate permissions in order to perform malicious actions. Watching for anomalous user behavior can help detect account takeovers and abuse.
  • Regulatory Compliance
    Compliance with HIPAA and HITECH as well as cybersecurity standards and other regulations requires a broad range of tools and a coordinated approach that is facilitated by a unified security and risk analytics system,

Protecting Patient Data with Gurucul

Gurucul understands healthcare organizations’ unique challenges and we can help. Gurucul’s cloud-native Security Analytics and Operations Platform addresses a full range of cyber risks, including security, identity, and fraud. Healthcare organizations can choose the integrated capabilities they need to fully secure sensitive patient data and other digital assets.

  • Gurucul Next-Gen SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) helps healthcare organizations detect and prevent breaches by ingesting and analyzing massive amounts of data from virtually any source, including network, IT systems, cloud platforms, applications, IoMT, and more. It provides a comprehensive view of risk using a library of advanced ML models and identity-centric data science, machine learning, anomaly detection and predictive risk-scoring algorithms to identify abnormal behaviors and activities indicative of security threats. By generating contextual, risk-prioritized alerts in real-time, Gurucul Next-Gen SIEM can automatically mitigate threats before damage occurs.
The Evolution From SIEM to Next-Gen SIEM
  • Gurucul UEBA (User and Entity Behavior Analytics) tools detect and respond quickly to unknown, new, and emerging threats based on an understanding of normal activity that continuously learns and adjusts to characterize suspicious and anomalous activity. Combined with our out-of-the-box threat content and other analytical capabilities, Gurucul UEBA can help security teams quickly distinguish malicious activity from false positives.
What is UEBA and How Does It Work?
  • Gurucul Open XDR (Extended Detection and Response) integrates siloed security products and data into a unified SaaS solution that views an organization’s entire computing environment holistically. This enables security teams to rapidly and efficiently hunt and mitigate security threats across multiple domains.
What is XDR?
  • Gurucul Identity & Access Analytics uses a risk-based approach for access requests and approvals to monitor and identify risks and remove excess access, access outliers, and orphaned/dormant accounts. This helps prevent the risk of account takeovers and privilege abuse.

These capabilities provide a holistic view of an organization’s computing environment and the sensitive data within. Gurucul can hunt for, detect, and mitigate threats before serious damage can occur.

Gurucul Healthcare Solution

Conclusion

The healthcare industry is a prime target for cyber attacks and other threats that pose risk to patient data. Healthcare organizations have a responsibility to safeguard private healthcare information and the systems that process it. A holistic cybersecurity program has many elements, including risk assessment, data encryption, threat detection and response, vulnerability management, and more.

Gurucul’s cloud-native Security Analytics and Operations Platform addresses a full range of cyber risks and helps healthcare organizations secure their protected health information (PHI).

FAQs

What is cybersecurity in healthcare?

Cybersecurity in healthcare refers to the protection of sensitive medical information, healthcare systems, and digital infrastructure from unauthorized access, data breaches, and other cyber threats. It encompasses the implementation of policies, procedures, technologies, and practices to safeguard patient data, maintain the integrity of healthcare operations, and ensure the confidentiality and availability of critical systems.

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What is the importance of cybersecurity in medical devices?

With the increasing use of connected medical devices, cybersecurity in healthcare extends to ensuring the security of medical devices such as infusion pumps, pacemakers, and imaging systems. This involves implementing measures to authenticate devices, apply security patches, and secure communication between devices and networks. Cybersecurity is crucial for medical devices to ensure patient safety, data protection, device integrity, and protection against malicious activities.

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How does HIPAA relate to cybersecurity?

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) relates to cybersecurity by establishing critical safeguards and guidelines for protecting the privacy and security of individuals’ health information. Under HIPAA’s Security Rule, healthcare organizations and their business associates are required to implement various technical, administrative, and physical measures to safeguard electronic protected health information (ePHI) from unauthorized access, breaches, and cyber threats. Compliance with HIPAA ensures that healthcare entities prioritize cybersecurity practices, including encryption, access controls, employee training, risk assessments, and incident response plans, to maintain the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive health data.

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Additional Resources

About The Author

Vikram MathuVikram Mathu, VP Customer Success, Gurucul

Vikram Mathu is a technology leader with 20+ years of experience in Cyber security, Customer Success, Product delivery and management, Infrastructure management, Identity & Access Management. He is a strategic thinker and planner, skilled in the design, implementation and management of highly effective product development, security architectures. Vikram possesses outstanding leadership and team building strengths that generate optimum productivity and performance excellence from organizational staff. He is committed to achieving corporate objectives with a history of successful delivery of projects and services. Specialties: Customer Success, Cyber Security, Identity & Access Management, Infrastructure Management.

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