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Health Tech | Safeguarding health: Navigating the complex landscape of cybersecurity in healthcare

Published:Sunday | December 10, 2023 | 12:13 AM
Across the world, healthcare data has become a prime target for cybercriminals due to its high value on the black market.
Across the world, healthcare data has become a prime target for cybercriminals due to its high value on the black market.
2022 ranked as the second-worst-ever year in terms of the number of reported HIPAA compliance breaches.
2022 ranked as the second-worst-ever year in terms of the number of reported HIPAA compliance breaches.
Doug Halsall
Doug Halsall
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In an era dominated by digital innovation, the healthcare industry stands at the crossroads of technological advancement and the imperative to protect sensitive patient information. The integration of electronic health records (EHR), telemedicine, and interconnected medical devices has undoubtedly enhanced patient care, but it has also exposed the healthcare sector to an escalating wave of cybersecurity threats.

Jamaica has not yet experienced any real data breach in hospitals, health centres or private medical practices, but we have seen several examples across the financial sector that would serve to encourage technology managers in every area to shore up their cybersecurity and data safety mechanisms.

Across the world, healthcare data has become a prime target for cybercriminals due to its high value on the black market. Personal health records contain a treasure trove of information, including medical histories, insurance details, and even financial data. The motives behind these cyberattacks range from financial gain to identity theft and even acts of cyber espionage.

According to the HIPPA Journal “…healthcare data breach statistics clearly show there has been an upward trend in data breaches over the past 14 years...” - www.hipaajournal.com. The HIPAA Journal tracks the breach reports of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) covered entities.

The healthcare sector’s vulnerability is exacerbated by the sheer volume of connected devices and systems, and if these are running on outdated software and lack robust security protocols, then the possibility of a breach becomes even greater. With the proliferation of telehealth services and the adoption of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in patient care, the attack surface for cyber threats has expanded exponentially.

A MULTIFACETED APPROACH

To counteract the rising tide of cyber threats, healthcare organisations are adopting a multifaceted approach to cybersecurity. Encryption of data in transit and at rest is a fundamental measure, ensuring that even if unauthorized access occurs, the information remains indecipherable. The encoded information can only be accessed or decrypted by a user with the correct encryption key.

Encrypted data, also known as ciphertext, appears scrambled or unreadable to a person or entity accessing without permission. - www.forcepoint.com. Other measures include access controls and strong authentication mechanisms to restrict entry points, minimizing the risk of internal breaches.

Regular cybersecurity training for healthcare staff is crucial in creating a human firewall against phishing attacks and social engineering tactics. The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines phishing as “a technique for attempting to acquire sensitive data, through fraudulent solicitation in email or on a web site, in which the perpetrator masquerades as a legitimate business or reputable person” and social engineering as “the act of deceiving an individual into revealing sensitive information, obtaining unauthorized access, or committing fraud by associating with the individual to gain confidence and trust”. - csrc.nist.gov.

Furthermore, the implementation of advanced endpoint protection, intrusion detection systems, and firewalls fortify perimeter defense, actively identifying and neutralising potential threats.

The emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in cybersecurity is also transforming threat detection and response. These technologies can analyse vast amounts of data in real-time, identifying patterns indicative of malicious activities. AI-driven tools enhance the speed and accuracy of threat detection, providing a proactive defense against cyber threats.

HIGH-PROFILE DATA BREACHES

Internationally, the healthcare sector has not been immune to high-profile data breaches, with significant consequences for patients and healthcare providers alike. In 2021, the cyberattack on a major United States hospital chain exposed the personal and medical records of millions of patients. This breach underscored the critical need for robust cybersecurity infrastructure and prompted a reevaluation of security protocols across the industry.

Within this current environment, the Data Protection Act 2020 was passed and sets standards and guidelines intent on reducing the amount of sensitive information at risk and managing data breaches if they occur. Organisations are required to implement internal policies and procedures for data protection and report any breaches promptly to the relevant authority if they occur.

The intersection of healthcare and cybersecurity is a complex landscape that demands constant vigilance and innovation. The healthcare sector must adapt to the evolving threat landscape by implementing robust cybersecurity measures, leveraging advanced technologies, and prioritising staff training.

Doug Halsall is the chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Email feedback to doug.halsall@gmail.com and editorial@gleanerjm.com