The UK’s healthcare sector is something of a cyber security battleground; where there’s a lot of highly sensitive data and healthcare outcomes at stake. The Wannacry attacks that disrupted much of the NHS showed not only how unprepared many healthcare organisations can be, but also how the complex data sharing networks can be a source of vulnerabilities.
It’s not just public healthcare in the UK, both breaches and mismanagement of data has also contributed to wider cyber risks and compliance breaches in medical research companies, private clinics, and more. There are many factors behind this, ranging from underinvestment in cyber security, a lack of user training and IT tools for observing and enforcing data protection capabilities, and the generally heightened number of potential vulnerabilities that healthcare providers face.
In this piece, we outline the key cyber security risks healthcare providers face, and how you can help to prevent them from materialising.
1. Patient Data Security
Knowing how sensitive and vital patient data is, cyber criminals often target healthcare providers to use this data for purposes such as fraud, as well as to extract payments using ransomware software, which locks down exposed devices and the data they hold until a ransom payment is made. It’s crucial to protect patient data using a mixture of technical defences such as encryption, access controls and user awareness training.
- Regular staff training on cyber security best practices and how to recognise and respond to phishing attempts. Most cyber-attacks are caused by user error.
- Employing strong, multi-factor authentication processes on all of your software platforms.
- Rigorous monitoring of your systems and setting up access controls for viewing and editing data for your users’ accounts, on a ‘need to know’ basis.
- Implementing Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools to monitor flows of data within your organisation and control these flows in alignment with your IT policy and compliance requirements.
2. Network Security
Healthcare providers in the UK increasingly rely on interconnected systems between different vendors and health and social care partners in order to give an efficient and holistic service to their patients. While necessary, this also expands the attack surface that cyber threats can use. The ransomware attack last year on Advanced, a UK supplier of NHS software, is a particularly relevant example of this risk.
- Use regular network assessments and penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities in your network and systems.
- Implement firewalls and intelligent intrusion detection and prevention systems to help you to regulate traffic and identify anomalies and threats quickly.
- Use patch management software to systematically ensure your software and systems stay updated. Additionally, ensure that all of your vendor software and hardware are still being supported and updated.
- Implement a full data backup and recovery solution, which will enable your business to restore its systems and data if parts of your network go down.
3. Compliance with Data Protection Regulations
In the UK, healthcare providers must adhere to stringent data protection regulations, including the UK GDPR and the Data Protection Act of 2018. Under GDPR, patient data is considered to be ‘special category data’, meaning that the rules and expectations for safely processing and storing it are even stricter.
Non-compliance can lead to hefty fines and reputational damage. The challenge lies in maintaining an up-to-date understanding of these regulations, particularly as digital healthcare evolves.
- Establishing a dedicated compliance team to stay abreast of regulatory changes, and using a compliance platform to aid your efforts, such as Microsoft Purview.
- Develop a bespoke compliance and cyber security solution that can systematise the monitoring, enforcement and reporting of your compliance obligations.
- Conducting regular data protection impact assessments across your organisation, especially when it is implementing new processes and technology.
4. Emerging Cyber Security Threats in Healthcare:
Having an effective shield against today’s most well-known threats to your cyber security is one thing, but there are also newer kinds of threats that also present vulnerabilities. The increasing use of IoT devices to deliver healthcare is one source, and another is the rise in telemedicine which can also introduce risks to patient data in movement and in storage.
Working with a managed services provider that is well-versed in cyber security and compliance for healthcare organisations can help you to remain secure, protect your patient data, and to operate consistently with peace of mind.
Healthcare Provider Cyber Security Best Practices
Investing in minimising risks arising from your users, network and applications, collaborating with other organisations, and systematically implementing a cyber security and compliance strategy are among some of the best practices for healthcare providers today.
Risk assessments and security audits can help you to unearth vulnerabilities and issues before they can have an impact. Having a suite of defences in place across your network, devices and applications will keep your digital perimeter more secure, as will staff training. Having incident response plans will enable you to respond to a range of scenarios quickly and effectively.
Get In Touch to Discuss Your Own Half-Hour Cyber Awareness Training
The vast majority of cyber incidents are caused by human error, get in touch with us today to discuss a cyber aware awareness training session for your business, and transform your weakest security link into your strongest security and compliance protection asset.
Our sessions equip teams with the knowledge of cyber security best practices and the ability to detect even sophisticated phishing threats, enabling your business and its compliance posture to focus on what it does best, uncompromised by today’s cyber threats.
With the particular prevalence of cyber threats facing the healthcare sector, the higher number of potential vulnerabilities, and the vital importance of patient data and maintaining system integrity, investing into cyber security is a must for healthcare providers today.
By understanding the common risks, staying compliant with regulations, and implementing comprehensive preventative measures, healthcare organisations can not only protect sensitive data but also uphold the trust of their patients and the community at large. Let’s commit to creating a secure digital healthcare environment, where patient care and data security go hand in hand.
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