How Do You Mitigate Cyber Risks in Healthcare?

Healthcare is one of the most targeted sectors due to the large amounts of valuable patient data, medical records, and protected health information (PHI) that institutions handle. Additionally, the healthcare sector and its service providers are notoriously slow at adopting new technology, making them particularly vulnerable to external cyber attacks.

Finding ways to mitigate cybersecurity risks will become a focal point for healthcare organizations in the coming years to prevent data breaches, data leaks, and other cybersecurity incidents. With the right processes and procedures in place, healthcare entities can ensure that they are well-protected against increasingly competent and effective cyber threats and establish a culture of cybersecurity within their organization.

What are the Biggest Cyber Risks in Healthcare?

The biggest cyber risks in healthcare include the following:

Best Practices for Mitigating Cyber Risks in the Healthcare Industry

As the healthcare industry becomes more reliant on technology for its internal processes, there are several items that organizations need to implement when they develop their risk management programs. Because hackers and cybercriminals often target the organizations with the worst cyber defenses first, the industry must raise its standards for minimum cybersecurity protections using various practices.

Here are the top methods for mitigating cyber risks for healthcare organizations:

Understanding the Attack Surface

Understanding your organization’s attack surface is required before actions can be taken to mitigate cyber risks. Organizations can better understand their biggest cybersecurity threats and information security risks by performing a risk assessment and gaining visibility into their attack surface. The goal of a risk assessment is to identify areas of higher risk, determine the impact and likelihood of occurrence for all risks, and prioritize risk mitigation and remediation processes.

Because the scope of threats can be broad, it’s important for organizations to identify the high or critical risk areas so they can begin mitigation processes. Assets deemed business-critical are also areas that organizations should prioritize their mitigation efforts. Threats identified as high likelihood of occurrence with significant potential impact on the business are also areas that should be prioritized.

Finally, healthcare institutions should implement continuous monitoring tools to track and identify emerging threats and new risks and flag them for mitigation or remediation.

Learn how you can perform a cyber risk assessment >

Establish Strong Security Policies and Procedures

Different security policies can help organizations and their third parties mitigate their risks as much as possible through effective implementation and oversight. These security policies and procedures set the baseline expectations that extend to all stakeholders in the company, and violation of these policies can come with punishment or termination.

Some of the top security policies that healthcare organizations should strongly consider are:

  • Access control - Access control policies control who has access to what information within the IT ecosystem. For example, access to highly sensitive information containing electronic health records should be limited to only the necessary job roles authorized to view that information. If individual credentials have been compromised in any way, it would prevent threat actors from accessing critical information due to limited access privileges.
  • Incident response (IR) plans - Mature cybersecurity programs all contain detailed incident response plans that outline specific actions for each type of cyber threat or security incident. IR plans focus on the immediate response after a security breach and recovery processes to mitigate the impact of the incident. Creating IR plans also helps organizations identify their biggest security gaps and allows them to preemptively mitigate their biggest risks.
  • Data encryption - By encrypting all business-critical data, organizations are protecting their data and assets, including those at rest and in transit, from unauthorized access. Even if data is stolen or intercepted, it would be nearly impossible for cybercriminals to decrypt that data, making it a highly secure method for proactively mitigating data breach risks. Physical devices that have been stolen would also pose little risk if they were encrypted.
  • Network security - Basic but necessary network security practices like installing firewalls and antivirus software can provide an initial line of defense against looming cyber threats. Beyond that, organizations can implement intrusion detection systems (IDS) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions to monitor their networks for suspicious activity and potential breaches.

Conduct Security Awareness Training

Human error is one of the biggest cyber threats to businesses, representing almost 95% of all data breaches. Even with comprehensive attack surface management (ASM) or third-party risk management (TPRM) program, insider threats remain the biggest risk to health organizations and can be especially hard to detect.

Regular security awareness training is one of the most effective methods to mitigate and prevent cybercrime. Whether it’s employee negligence or general cybersecurity ignorance, building cybersecurity knowledge across the organization can significantly reduce the chances of a potential security incident.

Training and education for cybersecurity can include any of the following topics:

Become Fully HIPAA-Compliant

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is a US federal law that is enforced for US healthcare organizations by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The law was developed to protect patient information and other sensitive data, such as patient records or healthcare data, in the healthcare industry. HIPAA regulations provide a security framework for institutions to follow and implement to ensure they meet basic security requirements regarding patient privacy and data security.

By following the cybersecurity standards listed in HIPAA, organizations can establish a baseline for their cybersecurity programs and mitigate their cyber risks as much as possible. Covered entities under HIPAA (health plans, healthcare providers, healthcare clearinghouses, healthcare business associates) must comply with the regulation or risk incurring significant fines or penalties for security breaches.

Although HIPAA does not directly provide guidance on how to mitigate cyber risks, it is a critical step in reducing the organization’s attack surface and exposure to high-risk threats.

Learn more about HIPAA >

Implement Risk Management Frameworks

Generally, achieving HIPAA compliance is not fully sufficient in addressing all potential cyber risks. To develop a more comprehensive and robust security program, it is highly recommended to incorporate one or more security frameworks on top of HIPAA to safeguard against major threats.

These frameworks help healthcare organizations maintain strong security postures using a combination of effective cybersecurity practices, general guidelines, and recommendations. Some highly recommended and popular cybersecurity frameworks that should be considered are:

Manage Supply Chain Risks

Third-party vendors in the supply chain are a huge risk for healthcare organizations if they don’t meet the minimum security requirements set by the organization or if they are not in compliance with HIPAA law. A single compromised service provider could potentially compromise the entire supply chain, meaning that supply chain risk management must be a priority for the healthcare sector.

Beginning with a proper vendor assessment during the procurement phase, healthcare entities must establish baseline controls for their third parties and ensure those security controls are upheld through a service-level agreement (SLA). If the vendor does not meet the requirements, it is up to the organization to determine if they want to find a new vendor or take action to help the vendor remediate their security risks.

Furthermore, risk management processes must be tracked over time to identify vendor setbacks or improvements. Vendors identified as a critical risk must be flagged immediately and notified to quickly close their security gaps.

By managing supply chain risks, organizations can lower their exposure to cyber threats and mitigate their overall cybersecurity risks as much as possible.

Sharing Threat Intelligence

Because the scope of cyber risks is wide-ranging and broad, collaborating with other healthcare networks or providers, along with government agencies and cybersecurity groups, can provide another avenue of information for mitigating cyber risks. Sharing threat intelligence with other organizations is one of the best ways to gain real information on how to identify, mitigate, and remediate common threats and vulnerabilities.

Through this information, organizations can begin developing more effective strategies for dealing with risks and learn from the experiences of others. More proactive measures can be implemented using past information, and documenting that information through platforms such as H-ISAC (Health Information Sharing and Analysis Center) can be a valuable resource for all.

Invest in Healthcare Cybersecurity Solutions

Managing internal and external attack surfaces can be extremely time-consuming and resource-intensive, and nearly impossible to do manually. Healthcare networks often span dozens to hundreds of individual entities, each with potentially hundreds of third-party vendors to manage, which means there are even more possible entry points for hackers and cybercriminals to exploit. Additionally, third parties that have been compromised pose serious security risks to businesses.

Even smaller healthcare entities may have trouble gaining visibility into their security posture without using a cybersecurity solution to assist them. Investing in a dedicated solution to help streamline the risk management process can save healthcare organizations countless hours and resources by rating their domain security, identifying areas of high risk, assisting in vendor assessment, and managing compliance with regulations.

Tools such as UpGuard BreachSight or UpGuard Vendor Risk are examples of dedicated cyber solutions that have helped hundreds of organizations, from small businesses to large enterprises, reduce their attack surfaces and manage vendor security risks.

How UpGuard Helps Mitigate Cyber Risks in Healthcare

UpGuard is a fully comprehensive, end-to-end risk management solution that helps healthcare entities mitigate their cyber risks. Through the UpGuard platform, users can access BreachSight or Vendor Risk and begin assessing their own security performance or that of their vendors and start creating actionable plans to reduce their attack surfaces.

Additionally, UpGuard Vendor Risk takes on the task of assessing vendors from start to finish to help your organization save valuable time and resources. Through an automated security questionnaire process, real-time updates on vendor security performance, and compliance management, organizations can streamline their entire vendor management process through one centralized dashboard.

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