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Healthcare IT security challenges and solutions

5 Healthcare IT security challenges & solutions

The use of technology in the healthcare industry has brought about significant improvements in patient care and operational efficiency. However, with the increasing reliance on technology comes the need for robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive patient information. Healthcare IT security faces unique challenges that require specialized solutions. In this article, we will explore the top five healthcare IT security challenges and provide valuable insights into how to secure healthcare data.

Challenge #1: Data breaches and cyber attacks

The healthcare sector experiences a significantly higher number of data breaches in comparison to other industries. HIPAA has established stringent guidelines to safeguard health records and other confidential data against unauthorized access. However, a significant number of healthcare organizations are grappling with the implementation of security measures and this creates opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit and compromise patient care information, through phishing attacks, ransomware, or DDoS attacks.

These attacks can result in the theft of sensitive patient data, including medical histories, social security numbers, and financial information. They can also disrupt healthcare operations, causing downtime and lost productivity. To tackle this challenge, healthcare organizations must adopt a multilayered approach to cybersecurity that includes the following:

1. Implementing robust access controls

Access controls are essential for ensuring that only authorized personnel can access sensitive patient data. Healthcare organizations must implement strict password policies, two-factor authentication, and employee training to ensure that access controls are effective.

2. Regularly monitoring and updating security systems

Healthcare organizations must continuously monitor their security systems for vulnerabilities and apply updates and patches as needed. This includes antivirus software, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems.

3. Conducting regular security audits

Regular security audits can help healthcare organizations identify weaknesses in their security systems and develop strategies for addressing them. Audits can also help organizations stay up-to-date with the latest security standards and regulations.

Challenge #2: Insider threats

Insider threats are another significant healthcare IT security challenge. These threats can come from employees, contractors, or vendors who have access to sensitive patient data and could potentially misuse this information for malicious purposes that could harm the organization. There are different types of insider threats and they have different goals:

Most businesses focus their investments on insider threats with malicious intent, but it turns out that negligent insider threats are more widespread. A study by Ponemon revealed that 61% of data breaches caused by insiders are primarily unintentional and caused by negligence.

Healthcare organizations must take steps to mitigate the risk of insider threats, including:

1. Conducting background checks on employees and contractors

Background checks can help healthcare organizations identify potential insider threats before they are hired or given access to sensitive patient data.

2. Implementing strict access controls

Access controls can help ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive patient data. Healthcare organizations must implement strict password policies, two-factor authentication, and employee training to ensure that access controls are effective.

3. Monitoring employee and contractor activity

Healthcare organizations must continuously monitor employee and contractor activity to identify suspicious behavior and potential insider threats. This includes monitoring network logs, email activity, and other electronic communications.

Challenge #3: Mobile device security

Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are increasingly being used in healthcare settings. While these devices can improve patient care and productivity, they also pose significant security risks. Mobile devices can be vulnerable to security threats through insecure networks. Cybercriminals can use tactics like man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks or trick employees into using fake Wi-Fi hotspots or access points to intercept traffic.

Healthcare organizations must take steps to secure mobile devices, including:

1. Implementing mobile device management (MDM) solutions

MDM solutions can help healthcare organizations manage and secure mobile devices. These solutions can help enforce password policies, enable remote wipe capabilities, and track device activity.

2. Encrypting sensitive data

Healthcare organizations must encrypt sensitive data stored on mobile devices to protect against data breaches and theft.

3. Providing employee training

Healthcare organizations must provide employee training on mobile device security best practices. This includes proper password management, avoiding public Wi-Fi networks, and reporting lost or stolen devices.

Challenge #4: Improper data handling

Healthcare facilities are often hectic environments, where staff members have to deal with multiple responsibilities simultaneously. Such situations can lead to errors in handling sensitive information, such as sending medical data to the wrong place or person. Problematically this can lead to an increased risk of data breaches and failure to comply with healthcare data security standards. 

To safeguard their patients’ confidential medical records, healthcare organizations must comply with a range of regulations and standards. These include HIPAA, HITECH, and PCI DSS, among others. The implementation of these regulations and standards ensures that healthcare organizations are taking adequate measures to protect sensitive patient information from unauthorized access, theft, or cyber-attacks. Compliance with healthcare data security standards enhances trust and confidence in the healthcare system, reassuring patients that their data is safe and secure.

Healthcare organizations must take steps to ensure that they comply with these requirements, including:

1. Conducting regular risk assessments

Risk assessments can help healthcare organizations identify risks and vulnerabilities in their security systems and develop strategies for addressing them.

2. Developing and implementing security policies and procedures

Healthcare organizations must develop and implement security policies and procedures that comply with regulations and standards. These policies and procedures must be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that they remain effective.

3. Providing employee training

Healthcare organizations must provide employee training on compliance and regulatory requirements. This includes HIPAA training, PCI DSS training, and other relevant training, to ensure data privacy and security is maintained properly.

Challenge #5: Legacy systems and infrastructure

It’s no secret that many healthcare organizations still rely on legacy systems and outdated infrastructure that simply can’t keep up with the rapidly changing cyber threat landscape. These systems present significant healthcare data security challenges that must be addressed to protect patient privacy and maintain the integrity of medical records.

Despite the clear risks associated with outdated systems, some healthcare organizations still hesitate to invest in new and more secure technologies. This can be due to budget constraints, concerns about interoperability, or simply a lack of awareness about the potential consequences of a data breach. However, the reality is that the costs of a security incident can far outweigh the costs of upgrading to a more secure infrastructure.

To tackle this challenge, healthcare organizations must take steps to modernize their systems and infrastructure, including:

1. Conducting a technology audit

Healthcare organizations must conduct a technology audit to identify legacy systems and infrastructure that are vulnerable to security threats. This audit can help organizations prioritize modernization efforts.

2. Developing a modernization plan

Healthcare organizations must develop a modernization plan that prioritizes the replacement of legacy systems and infrastructure. This plan should include timelines, budgets, and resource requirements.

3. Implementing modern security solutions

Modern security solutions, such as cloud-based security solutions, can help healthcare organizations modernize their security systems and infrastructure. These solutions can provide enhanced security features, such as real-time threat detection and response.

Beat health IT security challenges with the experts

To stay relevant in this highly competitive environment, healthcare practices need to take advantage of the latest digital technologies. However, the adoption of these technologies brings with it an increased risk of healthcare data security challenges. At ION247, our team of managed security professionals can provide you with valuable guidance on the latest digital technologies that can elevate your practice and improve your healthcare IT security.