Data has become a hot topic everywhere, and healthcare is one field where the collection, use, and protection of data has considerable consequences. Healthcare providers, as well as tech companies providing health apps and services often wrestle with data that’s protected, in addition to the usual privacy and security requirements when dealing with personal information.
Gathering data using self reporting on mobile devices, storing it using cloud services, and other technological advancements have made the lives of providers and patients much easier. On the other hand, the convenience features of IoT connectivity, bluetooth, cloud, and the myriad other ways data can be collected and stored to improve health outcomes, come with major security concerns. Data breaches in the healthcare sector are increasing, and most of the victims are small to medium sized businesses who don’t have the resources for advanced security software.
The Reasons for Increased Healthcare Data Breaches
Why is it that attacks on healthcare data are increasing? Why is this data a popular target, and what makes it so vulnerable?
There are four major factors that make healthcare data so vulnerable and so attractive to digital thieves.
- The nature of the data itself: addresses, social security numbers, health insurance accounts and details. This information is extremely useful for identity theft, which gives it a high monetary value.
- It can be very easy to socially engineer healthcare data. People regularly accessing healthcare services are often older, sick, disabled, or in some other way impaired. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, make easier targets for fraud and identity theft..
- Nurses, doctors, and other healthcare staff are not generally trained to be exceptionally technologically literate. They are also targets for phishing attacks and other breaches that only take clicking on the wrong link in an official looking email.
- IoT connected devices, which many people use to collect and send personal data to healthcare services, generally have poor security. Smart phones, for example, have notoriously poor security features.
Mitigating Security Threats in the Healthcare Industry
Most companies already can’t cope with the amount of data they’re collecting and processing. At this point, data security is playing catch-up, rather than future-proofing. Improving security and protecting patient data has two main approaches. The first approach is from a technical point of view. Even small healthcare companies need to invest in better security features in their software and hardware. Also, employees and independent practitioners need to become technologically literate and security aware, especially when handling the most sensitive patient data.
For developers of healthcare technology, better security needs to be built into the hardware. For providers that want to make use of personal healthcare medical devices and the data they generate, it’s important to do thorough research about the companies and technology they work with. The first step is ensuring that everyone involved in the process is serious about security.
The technology angle can be difficult to achieve for smaller companies, especially if they’re not tech companies. Making use of software cloud services to manage the private data of account holders is a good way to improve security. It may seem counterintuitive to outsource security, but a specialized software company will be better able to handle brute force attacks.
Technology education is another step in the process. Everyone in the healthcare profession needs to understand a phishing attack, know to be careful of what they keep on personal devices, and also be able to educate patients about how to protect their own information and identities.
When you’re dealing with vulnerable people, there is an extra level of care you need to take to protect them, and that means staying on top of developments in cyber security. Healthcare companies handle some of the most sensitive data about people, and a breach isn’t just a violation of privacy, it can lead to identity theft and serious financial turmoil. So it’s time to catch up.