We have seen a rise in healthcare data breaches and risks, resulting in a greater need to protect personal information, patient data, and sensitive information shared by healthcare organizations. Why? Few industries today hold such tremendous amounts of sensitive information about people. It's no wonder why Healthcare is such a targeted industry for attacks and data breaches. Healthcare providers account for 70% of all incidents in 2022 (Horizon Report). While the Healthcare industry will no doubt remain a prime target of cyber attacks for years to come, there are defensive measures and actions the industry can take to mitigate risk and reduce their overall attack surface.
Source: 2023 Healthcare Data Breach Report
This blog will explore the different measures healthcare organizations must take to protect their data and train staff from recognizing potential security threats. We will cover topics such as restricting access to data and applications, implementing data usage controls, multi-factor authentication, encrypting data, and more. So if you're looking for advice on how best to protect your healthcare data in the digital age, then read on!
Data security training for employees is an essential first step when protecting healthcare data. Training your employees about the importance of data security, the policies for protecting data, and the consequences of a data breach can help ensure that healthcare data remains confidential and secure. Such training is mandatory. Giving employees the tools and knowledge they need to recognize and respond to potential security threats can help mitigate any risks, and it's not something to take lightly. Remember, providing access to information and security measures is as important as training employees to protect it.
Regular risk assessments and penetration testing are essential to protect data, not just healthcare data. It's important to take the time to review and audit healthcare systems, databases, and network security to identify potential security risks and ensure that all necessary measures are in place to mitigate those risks. Enlisting the help of security firms can help tremendously with the heavy lifting. Routine security testing must become part of your internal processes so your team can maintain a sense of continuous security posture monitoring.
Continuous analysis and reviews of your data processes and assets can help identify any problems or discrepancies that must be addressed. By regularly conducting penetration tests and risk assessments, healthcare organizations can ensure they are taking the necessary steps to protect sensitive data and ensure the security of their digital assets.
Multi-factor authentication is loved and hated! Loved the added security protection and hated the added steps and potential confusion during the login and registration processes. The hard truth is that MFA will improve access control security to your data, period. But as the naysayers say, it's not fun to implement.
In a nutshell, MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring additional verification beyond just a username and password. To gain access, users must present additional identity information, typically in the form of a physical token (Yubikey), a one-time passcode generated from an app (Google Authenticator), a biometric identifier (fingerprint), or an additional question. The point is MFA can dramatically reduce the risk of data loss or unauthorized access and is an absolute must for organizations dealing with sensitive healthcare information.
Most of the hate for MFA happens during its implementation. A slow and well-thought-out implementation will be ideal. It's essential to call out that MFA is not a silver bullet and should be used with other security measures for maximum protection. Still, it's essential to any healthcare organization's defense against data breaches and cyber-attacks.
Encryption can be scary to implement. Can I lose my data forever if I somehow misplace the keys to decrypt? How much additional processing time will it take to decrypt? These are valid concerns, and solutions and techniques for handling them exist.
Here's the skinny; all data stored and transmitted can be kept secure from hackers and unauthorized access by leveraging encryption. Encryption makes it nearly impossible for external parties to access sensitive information and ensures the safety and privacy of all healthcare data. Several types of encryption can be used, from basic symmetric encryption to more advanced encryption methods such as public-private key encryption and blockchain technology. Thankfully, the science behind data encryption is relatively mature, and help, if needed, is out there. Healthcare organizations should use data encryption to protect their data and maintain the privacy of their customers.
Auditing and monitoring involve detecting, analyzing, and responding to potential security events within healthcare systems. This includes examining user access to HIPAA-sensitive data, such as PHI, and verifying the accuracy of the data stored. Much like a financial institution, not only is confidentiality important, data integrity is just as important. For example, log data that tracks user access to ePHI must be kept secure from accidental and intentional tampering.
Proper auditing and monitoring are essential for ensuring that healthcare data remains secure and is used appropriately. Additionally, it is important to monitor any changes to data access and use and any errors that may occur. This can help to identify any potential threats and address them quickly. With the proper auditing and monitoring processes, organizations can ensure that their healthcare data remains safe and secure.
Proper protections for healthcare data are essential, especially when third-party access is needed. Let's face it, integrations with third parties are sometimes necessary to meet customer demands, innovation, regulatory compliance, etc. That said, connecting or sharing data with third parties introduces risk to the environment.
When accessing data from a third-party provider, it's essential to ensure that appropriate protocols are in place to ensure the data remains secure and private. This means having measures to prevent unauthorized access and ensuring that data is encrypted while in transit. A secure audit trail can also help identify vulnerabilities and ensure compliance. Having the right safeguards and protocols can protect healthcare data and ensure its secure transmission when third-party access is necessary. Third-party security goes well beyond these items, and external help from a specialized security firm should be enlisted if the expertise does not already exist internally.
The importance of data protection for HIPAA compliance is evident when considering the activities of healthcare organizations and the vendors they partner with. Not only must the organization take measures to ensure their compliance, but they must also choose vendors that practice similar levels of data security. While complying with HIPAA and other regulations is a great start to protecting data, organizations should aim to surpass the minimum requirements to guarantee the most robust security possible.
Innovation in today's digital age has brought a wide range of exciting opportunities for those working in healthcare, however, with this increase in technology comes the need for increased security practices. By training employees on data security, conducting regular risk assessments, and implementing strong authentication measures, healthcare organizations can protect against data breaches and keep patient data secure. Encryption, auditing and monitoring, and controlling third-party access are also essential for protecting healthcare data in the digital age. By following these best practices, healthcare organizations can protect their patients and their data.