Cybersecurity Should Be High Priority for Health Care Organizations, Experts Say

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By Alex Ruoff

Health care organizations are becoming a prime target for “cybercriminals” seeking to steal identities or damage information systems, cybersecurity experts said April 22 during the Health Care Compliance Association's Annual Compliance Institute.

Health care organizations--ranging from provider networks to hospitals and insurers--are increasingly being targeted by hackers seeking patients' personal information, David Childers, chief executive officer for the Portland, Ore.,-based software management company Compli, said. And, more than half of all health care organizations surveyed have suffered some kind of breach of data, he said.

“Health care is at risk for deliberate targeting” by cybercriminals seeking personal information as well as “hacktivists,” groups or individuals who use computer networks to promote political or personal ideologies, Childers said.

Health care organizations should be vigilant about identifying deliberate attempts to access their databases of electronic health information as they can damage business relationships and patient trust, he said.

Human Error

Childers and Vivek Kirshnamurthy, an associate with the Washington, D.C.-based IT consulting firm Foley Hoag, advised health care organizations to educate all their employees on basic IT security and common schemes designed to breach IT security.


“You've got to become cyber vigilant and get your people prepared to understand what might be coming your way.”  




--Vivek Kirshnamurthy, Foley Hoag

Childers said one of the common causes of data breaches--when patient information is potentially exposed to unauthorized use or access--are related to human error; typically lost devices or phishing schemes, where malicious software is downloaded into a network.

“You've got to become cyber vigilant and get your people prepared to understand what might be coming your way,” he said.

Kirshnamurthy said health care organizations need to develop and implement “cyber incident response protocols and procedures,” designed to keep employees abreast of the changing landscape of IT security.

He said organizations should conduct mock drills of breaches and hacks to ensure the effectiveness of these procedures.

Threats to Look For

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires health care organizations to protect against “reasonably anticipated threats,” Childers said. Examples of emerging threats health care organizations should anticipate are:

• operating system flaws;

• flaws in electronic health record security, such as weak passwords or outdated algorithms;

• data leaks from patient information applications; and

• cloud-based IT storage systems failures.

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