How is cyber security used in healthcare?

Cyber security has become increasingly important in healthcare as medical facilities rely more on digital records and connected medical devices. Hackers and cyber criminals are actively targeting the healthcare industry and compromised records can lead to identity theft or disrupted operations. Proper cyber security controls are essential for protecting patient data and maintaining availability of systems that support patient care.

Why is cyber security important in healthcare?

There are several key reasons why cyber security is critically important for healthcare organizations:

  • Healthcare data is very sensitive – Medical records contain personal info, financial data, and sensitive health details. This makes them highly valuable to cyber criminals.
  • Connected medical devices create vulnerabilities – Devices like MRI machines, infusion pumps, and heart monitors all connect to the healthcare facility’s network and can be potential entry points for malware and hackers.
  • Healthcare organizations are frequent targets – The healthcare industry saw 328 data breaches in 2021, exposing nearly 40 million patient records. Hackers are actively targeting medical facilities.
  • Downtime can risk lives – If a hospital’s network goes down during critical care due to a cyberattack, patient lives are put at risk.
  • Regulations around patient data – Healthcare organizations must comply with regulations like HIPAA and face steep penalties if unable to properly secure patient data.

Given the sensitive nature of patient medical records, healthcare providers have an ethical and regulatory duty to implement strong protections of their systems and data.

What are the primary cyber security threats facing healthcare?

Some of the major cyber security threats that healthcare organizations face include:

  • Ransomware – Malicious software that encrypts data and demands ransom payment for the decryption key. This can cause massive disruption to operations.
  • Phishing – Emails or fake websites that trick users into revealing passwords and account info that hackers can use to infiltrate systems.
  • Unauthorized Access – Hackers exploiting vulnerabilities to gain access to confidential patient records and data.
  • Insider threats – Employees or others with trusted access who abuse their credentials and position to steal data.
  • Attacks on medical devices – Connected medical devices like IV pumps and heart monitors are vulnerable points hackers can exploit to get network access.

These threats all pose a risk to patient data confidentiality, system availability, and patient safety. Healthcare security teams must implement solutions that monitor and mitigate these risks.

What healthcare information is most targeted by cyber criminals?

Medical records contain a wealth of sensitive personal information that is highly valuable to cyber criminals. Some of the most targeted data includes:

  • Protected health information (PHI) – Details like patient names, birthdates, social security numbers, treatment details, insurance info. Enables identity theft.
  • Medical research – Valuable intellectual property like pharmaceutical research that hackers can steal and sell.
  • Billing/payment info – Financial account numbers, credit cards, and other info that can be used for financial fraud.
  • Medical devices – Connected imaging devices and monitoring systems that contain compromised data.
  • Physician credentials – Login details that can give access to full patient records and scheduling systems.

The combination of personal, financial, and medical data make healthcare records extremely valuable on black markets. Stolen records can sell for hundreds of dollars each.

What are some best practices for cyber security in healthcare?

Healthcare organizations should follow cyber security best practices such as:

  • Conduct risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities
  • Install anti-malware software on all systems and keep patched/updated
  • Enable strong firewalls and network access controls
  • Implement principles of least-privilege and need-to-know access
  • Require strong passwords and multi-factor authentication
  • Encrypt data at rest and in motion using protocols like SSL/TLS
  • Monitor systems and networks to detect attacks
  • Provide cyber security training to employees
  • Regularly backup up critical data with air-gapped backups
  • Have an incident response plan in case of a breach
  • Stay current on cyber security best practices and technologies

Following these steps provides layered security across networks, endpoints, and medical devices while protecting patient data integrity and privacy.

How can healthcare providers protect medical devices from being compromised?

Steps that healthcare security teams can take to better protect medical devices include:

  • Inventory all connected medical devices and classify risk levels
  • Segment the devices on their own protected networks
  • Monitor device network traffic for abnormal activity
  • Enable device authentication and access controls
  • Encrypt network traffic to/from medical devices
  • Update and patch devices regularly with vendor fixes
  • Disable unnecessary services and ports on devices
  • Scan regularly for device vulnerabilities
  • Enforce password policies and MFA for device management

Additionally, healthcare organizations should purchase devices that are designed with cyber security in mind and integrate with their security infrastructure. This provides visibility and control over the entireconnected device ecosystem.

What training and education helps healthcare workers practice good cyber hygiene?

Some important training and education that can help equip healthcare workers with good cyber security practices includes:

  • New employee orientation – Introduce basic cyber security policies and acceptable use of systems.
  • Annual cyber security training – Required updated training on risks, policies, and procedures.
  • Simulated phishing tests – Run mock phishing campaigns to raise awareness of real threats.
  • Strong password training – Train employees how to create complex, unique passwords for accounts.
  • Safe web browsing – Teach staff how to identify unsafe links/websites and use secure networks.
  • Social engineering awareness – Education on common tactics like baiting and pretexting that hackers use.
  • Incident reporting – Train personnel on proper incident response like reporting indicators of compromise.

Proper cyber hygiene training teaches employees to be an active line of defense against threats. Security teams should continually refresh training to reinforce good habits.

What regulations apply to cyber security practices in healthcare?

Some of the key regulations governing cyber security programs in healthcare include:

  • HIPAA – Sets data privacy and security requirements for protected health information (PHI).
  • HITECH – Expands HIPAA breach notification requirements for healthcare providers.
  • NIST CSF – Provides cyber security framework for critical infrastructure like healthcare.
  • ISO 27799 – International standard for healthcare info security management.
  • GLBA – Requires safeguards for patient financial data and payment systems.
  • PCI DSS – Payment Card Industry (PCI) data security standards for card processing.
  • State breach laws – Regulations requiring timely breach reporting and response.

Failing to comply with these standards can result in heavy fines and reputational damage. Staying current helps healthcare security teams meet evolving regulatory demands.

How can healthcare organizations prepare for and respond to cyber attacks?

Key steps healthcare organizations should take to prepare for and respond to cyber attacks include:

  • Conduct incident response exercises and simulations
  • Develop a formal incident response plan with defined procedures
  • Assemble an incident response team with key personnel like IT, security, legal, PR
  • Establish recovery processes to restore from backups after an attack
  • Integrate threat intelligence to detect emerging attacks
  • Designate emergency decision authorities for executives
  • Collaborate with law enforcement early in an investigation
  • Have forensic capabilities ready to deploy for evidence gathering
  • Streamline breach notification and patient communication processes
  • Evaluate cyber insurance options to help mitigate financial impact

Proactive preparation enables faster response and recovery when incidents inevitably occur. This helps limit damage and maintain continuity of patient care.

What technologies help enable healthcare cyber security programs?

Some important technologies that enable robust healthcare cyber security include:

  • Antivirus and anti-malware – Detects and prevents malicious code and activity.
  • Encryption – Protects data at rest and in motion by encoding it.
  • Multi-factor authentication – Requires multiple credentials like biometrics to verify users.
  • Access controls – Manages access to systems based on user roles and privileges.
  • Email security – Filters malicious emails and blocks phishing attempts.
  • Data loss prevention – Monitors and protects sensitive data like PHI.
  • Network monitoring – Analyzes network activity for signs of compromise.
  • SIEM – Security event correlation and alerting on threats.
  • Endpoint detection – Monitors endpoints for suspicious activities.

A layered security approach using integrated tools provides defense in depth against modern advanced threats targeting healthcare.

What steps help secure patient data in healthcare systems and records?

Key steps to help secure patient data include:

  • Classify data by sensitivity level and manage accordingly (PHI, financial, etc)
  • Encrypt data both at rest and in transit using protocols like AES and TLS
  • Use access controls to restrict access to only personnel who need it
  • Anonymize or pseudonymize data where possible for analytics use cases
  • Log and monitor access to patient records to detect suspicious activity
  • Securely transmit data only over encrypted connections and to trusted parties
  • Follow principle of least privilege for system permissions
  • Mask or truncate social security numbers and financial data where possible
  • Properly dispose of physical media like hardcopy records or old computer equipment

A proactive approach to data-centric security helps safeguard healthcare data integrity and patient privacy.

What cyber security measures safeguard patient privacy?

Key cyber security measures that help safeguard patient privacy include:

  • Granular access controls to patient data based on personnel roles
  • Encryption of patient data at rest, in motion, and especially on mobile devices
  • Anonymizing patient identifiers where possible for analytics use cases
  • Monitoring and logging access attempts to patient records
  • Promptly revoking access when employees leave the organization
  • Securely wiping or destroying media that contained patient data
  • Cyber security training to reinforce staff privacy responsibilities
  • Organization-wide privacy policies and procedures
  • Consent management mechanisms to obtain patient consent to share data
  • Physical security controls to limit physical access to facilities and records

Proactive technical, administrative, and physical controls help preserve patient privacy and trust.

How can healthcare security teams demonstrate the value of their programs?

Healthcare security teams can demonstrate value and gain executive buy-in by:

  • Presenting metrics on infections mitigated, breaches prevented, and incidents responded to
  • Calculating potential financial costs of breaches avoided through good security practices
  • Showing improvements in audit results and regulatory compliance assessments
  • Conducting simulations that reveal gaps addressed since previous exercises
  • Gathering user feedback on how security measures improve confidence and experience
  • Monitoring adoption and usage of security technologies deployed
  • Participating in strategic planning to align security goals with business objectives
  • Benchmarking their program maturity against industry standards and frameworks

By quantifying contributions using data, security teams demonstrate their role in enabling healthcare’s mission.


Effective cyber security is critical for protecting sensitive patient data and upholding high quality care. Healthcare providers face emerging threats from adversaries seeking to disrupt operations, steal data, and harm public safety. Security teams must implement layered technical and administrative controls while fostering an organizational culture of vigilance. With proper investment in preparedness and dedicated resources, healthcare systems can operate securely and resiliently against the modern threat landscape.