Poor Cybersecurity Hygiene Leaves Healthcare Sector Vulnerable to Hackers

By improving their cybersecurity hygiene, doctors can protect sensitive medical information.

Poor cybersecurity hygiene within the healthcare sector leaves the field susceptible to ransomware attacks and security breaches, the prevalence of which is significant. An estimated 600 healthcare institutions and more than 18 million individual patient records were affected by ransomware attacks in 2020 alone.

Employee negligence and simple human error make it easy for hackers to compromise patient data through successful phishing attempts and other similar scams. Poor cybersecurity hygiene of doctors exacerbates the already prevalent issue of data breaches, especially in the age of telehealth and digital transformation.

“Healthcare organizations make an ideal prey for hackers, as many of them use outdated security software and continue to underinvest in cybersecurity. At the same time, they get to keep an overwhelming amount of the most sensitive data,” Oliver Noble, a cybersecurity expert at NordLocker, a data encryption solution, said in a statement.

Weak passwords leave patients’ medical records and personal information vulnerable to ransomware attacks and prove to be one of the top causes of data breaches. It is recommended that doctors use complex and unique passwords, change passwords often, and use a manager to keep track of passwords, to protect sensitive data.

Many patient records are stored as unencrypted files, which makes it easy for hackers to gain access and leverage access in exchange for a paid ransom from doctors. Patient information shared between doctors or third-party providers via email also leaves information at a risk of data leaks because email is one of the least safe methods of digital communication. Encrypting patient data and medical files using software like NordLocker offers protection from ransomware attacks, as it blocks outsiders from gaining access to sensitive content.

Using out-of-date software makes patient data vulnerable to hackers, especially if hackers are aware of known security weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Staying up to date with software updates is critical to the security of sensitive information because they typically include important fixes and patches that improve cybersecurity hygiene.

Doctors should educate themselves about cybersecurity and be proactive in recognizing and preventing potential phishing attacks, like phishing emails requesting that they download malware or share sensitive data.

Downloading a virtual private network (VPN) is another helpful way to ensure a safe internet connection and avoid data leaks. A VPN blocks the internet connection from third parties like hackers and secures an encrypted connection tunnel between a device and the internet or the organization’s server.