The healthcare sector is currently facing an IT security crisis. They're in dire need of safety protocols to prevent data breaches, and as a result, healthcare organizations are under increasing amounts of pressure to cut costs and improve the quality of care that they offer their patients. In order to achieve these goals, it's paramount that their IT departments place a greater emphasis on network security.
In this article, we’ll break down some of the risks that the healthcare industry faces when it comes to IT security and provide recommendations for creating a more secure and safe environment.
Before we get into all of that though, let's take a look at how hospitals currently utilize software...
How Hospitals Currently Utilize Software
Hospitals typically use a multitude of different types of software to help them manage their workflows, keep track of patient information, and schedule doctor's appointments. However, it is often quite difficult for hospitals to integrate all of these individual software platforms into a cohesive system that can be easily operated by hospital staff.
Some of the factors contributing to this difficulty include:
- The fragmented structure of hospital IT departments, which is made up of many independent teams responsible for various aspects of hospital operations.
- A lack of compatibility between computer systems used by different departments within a hospital.
- An inconsistent understanding of how existing software can be leveraged to meet new needs.
To address these problems, hospitals should consider implementing an operating system that integrates all the conflicting systems they currently use in order to work more efficiently. While it may seem daunting for organizations without previous experience in building enterprise software to implement a solution like this, the long-term benefits far outweigh any difficulties they may encounter getting things up and running.
The Importance of Security for Hospital IT Departments
IT security is crucial to the success of any hospital as most hospitals rely on electronic medical records to manage patient data. These records contain a comprehensive history of a patient's medical information, including treatment history, diagnostic results, and any other data related to their care. If this information were to be breached or lost, it could have devastating consequences for the patient.
Hospitals are also vulnerable to other types of cyberattacks, such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which could take down the hospital's website and prevent patients from accessing important information. The damage of these attacks could be compounded if the hospital were to be unable to reach the hospital's patients, as patients could show up at the hospital only to be turned away.
Common IT Security Threats that Affect Hospitals and Healthcare Providers
Hospital IT departments are one of the most targeted groups by hackers due to the sensitive data they have access to. As a member of the hospital IT department, you need to be on the lookout for the following security issues:
Phishing is a type of social engineering attack that targets employees through emails. Phishing emails often appear to be from a known source, but the email contains a link to a false site designed to steal credentials.
Malware is a general term for software designed to disrupt or damage a computer using viruses, worms, and Trojans. Ransomware, specifically, is malware that encrypts a system's files and then demands a "ransom" for the decryption key.
Social engineering is a type of attack that targets employees, and they are much more difficult to detect than other types of attacks because they rely on deception instead software.
Denial of Service
A denial of service attack (DOS) is an attack that prevents legitimate users from accessing a website or service.
Injection attacks occur when a malicious user inputs harmful code into a website or application which provide the attacker control over the program. This can be done in many different ways, but the most common way is through SQL injection. SQL injection occurs when a hacker injects SQL commands into a website's form data, potentially giving the hacker access to the server that the code is running on.
DNS hijacking is a type of attack in which an attacker directs traffic from a legitimate website to their own.
Client-side attacks target users of a computer or network. Fortunately, they are largely preventable through awareness and education.
As the name suggests, server-side attacks target servers, and they are often more difficult to prevent. As an example, an attacker might exploit an SQL injection vulnerability in a web application in order to maliciously change or gain unauthorized access to data in the server's database.
The Importance of Different Security Features for Hospital IT Departments
As an IT department in the healthcare industry, you must be able to protect patient health data from unauthorized third parties and ensure the security of a hospital's network, hardware, and software. A solid security plan must consider both internal and external threats, and if it is not possible to properly secure the entire hospital network, then the IT department should focus on protecting as many sensitive resources as possible.
When you get right down to it, there are three security features that rank the highest in priority for hospital IT departments: IP address, online presence, and device security.
The most important security feature for a hospital IT department is the security of their IP address. Hospitals are required by law to backup patient health data, and many hospitals choose to store that data off-site. Because of the sensitive nature of this data, it is vital that hospital IP addresses be secure to prevent hackers from accessing it.
The second most important security feature for a hospital IT department is the security of their online presence. A hospital has a public face, and it needs to be secure from the outside world. Hospitals that have a public face should be wary of hackers who want to gain access to any patient data that is online.
The third most important security feature for a hospital IT department is the security of their devices. Hospitals are always in danger of losing laptops, tablets, and other devices which can lead to the loss of patient information. With this in mind, hospitals should be careful to secure their devices and track them at all times.
Best Practices for Maintaining a Secure Hospital IT infrastructure
Now that we've touched on the most common security threats and the importance of different security features, let's discuss how you can keep your IT infrastructure safe.
As we've previously stated, a hospital's IT system is crucial to its operations. It provides access to patient records, programs medical equipment, and coordinates communication between doctors and nurses. The IT system is essentially the backbone of the entire facility, so it is vital that it is maintained with care.
A secure hospital IT infrastructure is based on the following modern best practices:
- Using encrypted databases and communication protocols such as TLS or HTTPS
- Encrypting data both at rest and in transit
- Utilizing a password manager to manage strong passwords and implementing two-factor authentication
- Using a virtual, private network for remote access
- Keeping a clean backup of all data, an audit trail of all actions, and a clean minimal operating system environment
- Investing in regular network maintenance—this involves cleaning up hard drives, removing empty folders, and organizing files into subfolders for easy navigation. The goal of this work is to ensure that the network runs as smoothly as possible
- Encrypting all data on hard drives. To ensure patient privacy, all confidential information should be encrypted before leaving the hospital or being transmitted over the internet. When using cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive, users should enable 2-factor authentication when possible to deter network intruders from accessing their data
- Maintaining an effective backup program. In the event of an emergency or disaster, a hospital will need access to all of its data in order to keep operations running smoothly, even if its physical infrastructure is damaged beyond repair. Regular backups ensure that no important information is lost if there is a fire or theft at the facility
- Keeping software updated on all computers and servers within the network. Software updates come with bug fixes and security patches that protect against malicious attacks on your server
- Depending on the sensitivity of your data, you may also want to implement automated breach detection methods. These can include things like honeypots, detectors that detect unauthorized file transfers, and so on.
How Hospitals Audit Their Own IT Security Levels
If you're not sure about the security of your current IT setup, an audit might help you determine what is needed. Most hospitals have a team of security experts whose job it is to ensure that the hospital's hardware and software are secure, and this team performs security audits on their own network. They do not, however, perform full penetration tests that could potentially expose some of the hospital's most sensitive data to third parties. As a result, hospitals take extreme measures to prevent them from happening.
When a hospital performs an audit, it simply checks whether electronic systems function as intended. The hospital does not attempt to break into its own systems or to hack into other organizations' systems. If a hospital needed to find flaws in its own network before hackers did, it would need to hire outside consultants for these purposes.
Infrastructure Components You Should Scrutinize During a Security Audit
To perform a security audit on your hospital's IT infrastructure, you should examine each of its core components. Your security audit should include the following components:
Workstations - Make sure that your workstations are running the most recent version of your operating system and that they have all necessary security patches installed.
Servers - You should check that servers are not running unnecessary software, that the software that they are running is updated, and that users do not have access to administrative privileges.
Network Devices - Run a network scan to detect any possible vulnerabilities in your network, and make sure that network administrators are using the most up-to-date network protocols.
Cloud Infrastructure - Check that you are using a secure cloud service and that users have restricted access to their accounts.
Data & Databases - During an audit, it's vital to ensure that the hospital is not storing any sensitive information in clear text or leaving it unencrypted on endpoints that could lead to potential breaches. You should also make sure that the hospital's database is regularly backed up and that it is not publicly available anywhere.
Server-side & Client-side Code - Make sure that server-side code is not vulnerable to common exploits, and observe users' interactions with the hospital's website to ensure that they are not downloading any malicious software.
Applications - Finally, you should include any applications you may be using in your audit as well. The two main types of problems that they can create are data loss and data theft. If a hospital's application is not properly secured, then a hacker could easily steal a patient's health records. Hackers could also gain access to the hospital's databases and steal a lot of the hospital's data at once.
Steps You Should Take to Secure Your Organization’s IT Infrastructure
Assess the Current State of Your Network
The first step toward securing your healthcare organization's IT infrastructure is to understand the current state of your network. A network security assessment performed by a professional network security consultant will reveal vulnerabilities in your network that could be exploited by criminals and spies. Fortunately, these assessments can be performed remotely and are usually inexpensive.
Fix Any Vulnerabilities
The second step is to fix vulnerabilities found during a network security assessment. These fixes can be costly, but they are necessary to prevent a major breach that could lead to a loss of revenue and a delay in providing care.
Create Network Security Policies
The third step is to create a policy that is enforced by network security software. These policies will protect your organization from unauthorized access and criminal activity.
Craft a Strategy
The fourth step is to create a strategy that will protect your healthcare organization from future threats. This strategy will take into account new types of network security threats that could emerge as a result of current advances in technology.
Build With Crowdbotics
Upgrading your IT Infrastructure to serve your patients and hospitals is an ongoing consideration for any healthcare administrator. Infrastructure upgrades can help your team leverage mobile technology, optimize staff workflows, and improve patient care.
Crowdbotics offers managed app development for custom healthcare app builds, and our PMs and developers have a broad range of expertise within highly regulated sectors like healthcare. If you are considering a custom solution to increase your hospital's efficiency and improve patient outcomes, get in touch with our experts for a detailed quote today.