Strengthening hospital cybersecurity: Protecting patients and data

data management

In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, hospitals are increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks that threaten patient data and the uninterrupted delivery of critical healthcare services. Recent discussions during the Cybersecurity Conference in Monaco shed light on the pressing need for hospitals to enhance their cybersecurity measures. We had the opportunity to engage with experts from various organizations to understand the challenges and solutions in safeguarding healthcare institutions against these threats.

In recent years, hospitals have emerged as prime targets for cybercriminals, who employ a range of tactics to exploit vulnerabilities. Ransomware attacks, which lock hospitals’ information systems, and data theft are among the most prevalent forms of assaults. An alarming incident last year saw over 11 gigabytes of data stolen from a French hospital in Corbeil Essonne, later posted on a cybercriminal group’s website, exemplifying the severity of these threats.

The repercussions of these cyberattacks are far-reaching. When hospital computer systems are compromised, critical operations and services may be suspended, directly endangering patient lives. Furthermore, the loss of medical data exposes patients to potential privacy and security issues, emphasizing the dire need for robust cybersecurity measures.

Identifying the Threats

The primary threat facing hospitals is business interruption, primarily manifesting in the form of ransomware attacks. These attacks lock hospitals’ information systems, often leaving them with little recourse but to pay the ransom, which in turn incentivizes attackers to target healthcare institutions.

The consequences of business interruption forces systems to shut down and necessitates the redirection of patients to other hospitals. The digitization of hospital operations has made them heavily reliant on computer systems, resulting in a significant slowdown in inter-departmental information flow when manual processes must be employed.

Intrusion Vectors

There are two main vectors of intrusion in hospitals as phishing and hacking. Phishing, involving the compromise of an organization from within via malicious emails, often aims for financial gain, either through data encryption or extortion. To address these threats, hospitals must adopt comprehensive cybersecurity measures.

Best Practices for Strengthening Hospital Cybersecurity

Experts unanimously agree that adhering to cybersecurity best practices is pivotal in safeguarding healthcare institutions. These best practices encompass implementing fundamental security measures such as antivirus software, endpoint detection and response (EDR), and firewalls.

The French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (ANSSI) has outlined a comprehensive cybersecurity hygiene guide, which formalizes 42 essential rules applicable to hospitals and businesses alike. These rules include training operational teams in information system security, raising user awareness about basic computer security practices, identifying sensitive information, maintaining a network diagram, and encrypting sensitive data transmitted over the Internet.

Email Security and Internet Exposure

Securing professional email is of paramount importance, as it often serves as the initial entry point for cyber attackers. Expert opinions stress the need for hospitals to secure their email systems effectively. Solutions like Vade (formerly Vade Secure) and BreakInMail are recommended for safeguarding incoming emails against phishing attacks. Additionally, solutions like Patrowl aim to protect all information exposed on the internet, ensuring comprehensive defense.

Anticipation and Preparedness

A key aspect of strengthening hospital cybersecurity is the ability to anticipate and prepare for potential attacks. Proactive measures, such as analyzing the current cybersecurity posture, understanding potential threats, and formulating action plans, are recommended to mitigate risks effectively. Hospitals should not wait for an attack to occur but should take preventive steps to ensure the safety of their systems and patient data.

The Role of Penetration Testing

To prepare effectively, some solution providers offer penetration testing, which involves assessing the security of all hospital applications. This practice identifies vulnerabilities in both aging and new software, helping hospitals strengthen their defenses against potential cyber threats.

Cybersecurity: An Essential Investment

While investing in cybersecurity incurs costs, it is a necessary and prudent measure for hospitals. Recent testimonials from healthcare institutions underscore the importance of allocating funds to secure their systems before an attack occurs. The expenses associated with cyberattacks, including data breaches and business interruptions, far outweigh the initial cost of cybersecurity measures. In the end, protecting patient data and ensuring the uninterrupted delivery of healthcare services makes cybersecurity an investment well worth making.

The pressing need for hospitals to fortify their cybersecurity measures is evident. As they increasingly become prime targets for cyberattacks, the safety of patient data and the continuity of healthcare services hinge on robust defenses and proactive measures. The key takeaway is clear: hospitals must prioritize cybersecurity as a fundamental aspect of their operations to protect patients and their valuable data.