The outlook for healthcare cybersecurity in 2023

By Brian Foy | January 9, 2023

With troves of clinical patient data, hospitals and health care systems have become increasingly integral to the development of clinical trial design and treatment modalities. Unfortunately, hospitals and health systems have also become a growing target for cyber criminals looking to exploit valuable information via cyberattacks. According to a recent survey, more than 1 in 3 health care organizations around the world reported being hit by ransomware in 2020: and there is little indication of any slowdown. One study conducted in 2021 found that attacks against health plans rose nearly 35 percent from 2020 to 2021. Furthermore, there was a rise from 14 million total victims of healthcare attacks in 2018 to 45 million in 2021. As health data continues to become more accessible digitally, hospitals must begin prioritizing updating old infrastructure and implementing data security strategies to best safeguard sensitive patient information.

Implications of obsolete infrastructure

Since the start of the pandemic, many hospitals and health systems have rightly become consumed with budget shortfalls and ongoing labor shortages. This has led to investments in modern technology falling by the wayside, leading hospitals and health systems to continue operating on outdated systems. In fact, a study conducted in 2020 found that 83 percent of hospital infrastructure is running on outdated software. In many cases the software in question is no longer being supported by its original developer.  This means that upgrades that would patch vulnerabilities and safeguard data are not unavailable. Moreover, from unencrypted IoT device traffic to VLANs mixing IoT and IT assets, these outdated systems operate on extensive networks without elaborate security measures, making the system especially prone to cyberattacks.

This lack of cybersecurity measures has obvious implications on data privacy.  Research is also demonstrating that healthcare cyberattacks are linked to other negative outcomes in patient care and patient finances. A 2022 study found that the most common ramifications of cyberattacks are delayed procedures and tests.  57 percent of surveyed providers reported negative patient outcomes; 50 percent reported increased complications from medical procedures. Cyberattacks can jeopardize access to health records or even alter  patient data, impacting a caregiver’s ability to provide effective care for a patient. Cyberattacks also can place a serious strain on hospital finances, only compounding cost pressures with elevated expenses and low margins caused by the pandemic. According to a report by IBM Security, the average healthcare breach now costs $10.1 million, usually attributed to losses induced by system shutdowns.

Strategies for the future

As health care executives look to protect patient data from malicious attackers, they should consider a robust variety of data security strategies. Some options are encryption for health care data both at rest and in transit, backup mechanics and data recovery systems, and two-factor login authentication for users permitted to access private data. Health care executives also must choose third-party partners that utilize protective measures to defend against cyber threats through programs such as System and Organization Controls (SOC) and Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST). Suppliers can also combine these measures in an assurance program known as SOC 2 + HITRUST. These measures ensure the confidentiality and privacy of the data managed by complying organizations.

Exacerbating the potential for loss through cyberattacks is the fact that many hospitals and health system employees also still lack proper education on cybersecurity. A 2019 survey found that nearly a third of health care IT respondents reported being aware of their organization’s cybersecurity policy, and only 2 in 5 of surveyed healthcare workers in North America stated they were not aware of cybersecurity measures in place at their organization to protect IT devices. Healthcare organization executives must implement more rigorous workforce security training and better educate workers on the steps required to keep patient information safe and secure.

Adopting modern IT infrastructure is increasingly important as cyberattacks and malware become more frequent and sophisticated. If critical software updates and cybersecurity education continue to be deprioritized,  healthcare providers are at risk of reducing the quality of care and patients losing trust in the healthcare industry.  Healthcare organizations that take the necessary steps to improve to their information security posture will be better positioned to improve outcomes, avoid financially catastrophic outages and lead the industry in leveraging clinical data for crucial innovation.

Brian Foy is chief product officer at Q-Centrix.

Published in Security Magazine. See the full article here.