The security of healthcare data doesn’t always get the same consideration as other types of cybersecurity. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising: the stakes in many healthcare facilities are literally life and death, and data security can sometimes fall to the wayside. 

The truth, however, is that healthcare data security is critically important. That’s both because of the unique type of information that can be stolen from healthcare facilities, and because of the significant damage a cyber attack can inflict on patients’ quality of care. 

Electronic Health Records Are Uniquely Valuable

It’s true that electronic protected health information (ePHI) stolen via healthcare data breaches has less monetary value on the black market than, say, a credit card number. What’s important, however, is that healthcare data remains constant over time.

That is, a stolen credit card can be canceled, rendering the credit card number useless. A person’s name, date of birth, and medical history, on the other hand—that information doesn’t change. Electronic health records (EHRs) are specifically designed to be shared among healthcare providers, to provide the best possible care the least cost. The ability to share health information allows medical professionals to do their jobs efficiently, but without appropriate data protections in place, electronic medical records can fall into the wrong hands and cause long-term disruption for the victims. 

The permanent nature of healthcare information makes it all the more valuable to cybercriminals. The wide variety of personal data included in medical records can lead to identity theft or other forms of fraud.

Medical Facilities Have Distinct Vulnerabilities 

The healthcare industry also has unique cybersecurity vulnerabilities that are important to consider. Most healthcare organizations have a large number of unauthorized people—more commonly known as “patients” and “visitors”—who are able to move freely within the facility. This increases the possibility of physical access to restricted areas and systems. 

Another potential security risk could be the hospital’s own staff. A majority of medical security breaches originate via phishing attempts. A doctor or nurse who’s tired and distracted by the job at hand may inadvertently open a seemingly harmless email that could bring ransomware attacks, resulting in the loss of otherwise protected health information. 

Next are medical devices. Most devices are expensive and are built to last for a long time. Manufacturers often focus on the machine’s particular task, rather than data security. As such, medical devices can be insecure from the start, and difficult to update as attack methods evolve. 

Healthcare tools and devices are also increasingly a part of the Internet of Things (IoT)—and while IoT-enabled medical devices are an important breakthrough in medical care, they also created a new world of potential security risks. As these IoT devices become more widely used, facilities need to be aware of the potential risks and how vulnerable the operating systems can be for healthcare security. 

Healthcare Providers Aren’t Focused on Data Security 

Many healthcare providers are unaware of these risks and can be reluctant to make changes that might interfere with patient care. After all, those changes can be time consuming and expensive, while operating budgets are tight. 

Medical professionals do need quick and easy access to their patient information, but a balance should be struck between accessibility and security. Healthcare providers have an important responsibility to the community. Part of that responsibility is protecting patients’ sensitive data. Patient records should be treated as an extension of the patient themselves and held to the same standard of care. 

HIPAA Compliance Depends on Strong Data Security 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was created in 1996 to regulate the use and storage of protected health information (PHI). HIPAA compliance is required of organizations that are defined as covered entities (those that transmit and collect PHI) and business associates (those that have access to the data of covered entities). A number of additions and changes have been made to the HIPAA regulations since its inception, notably the Privacy Rule in 2003 and the Security Rule in 2004. These two rules have much in common, but the latter was created explicitly for the protection of ePHI. 

The Security Rule provides organizations with standards that must be met to prove that personal health information is protected. Violations of these standards can result in fines and possible jail time. Full HIPAA compliance requires you to adhere to the Security Rule, so make sure the appropriate security measures are in place to protect all healthcare information in your care. 

The costs of investigating and responding to healthcare security breaches can be enormous. To protect your company and your patients, it’s important to consider healthcare data security from the start, before it becomes an issue. ZenGRC is a streamlined platform built to keep you on top of your compliance and data governance. Schedule a demo today and learn more about how ZenGRC can help keep your PHI secure.