Blog Overview

November 2, 2022

7 Reasons Why Healthcare Is the Biggest Target for Cyberattacks

Author: Sam Munakl

In the first half of 2022 alone, cybercriminals perpetrated approximately 817 data breaches against American businesses. These breaches impacted more than 53 million people. While these data compromises hit businesses across various industries, the healthcare sector was among the hardest hit.

In recent years, the healthcare industry has become a ripe target for cybercriminals all around the globe. This reality should come as no surprise, as healthcare providers compile lots of confidential data on patients, including financial information, identifying data like Social Security numbers and birthdays, as well as addresses and more. 

The question is, what factors have transformed the healthcare industry into the biggest target for cyberattacks? By understanding the “why” of healthcare’s cybercrime problem, your organization can better protect itself and its patients. You can also leverage this information to help identify potential risk factors via a cybersecurity assessment.

In order to help, we have outlined 7 reasons why healthcare is the new favorite target for cyberattacks in 2022.

Is Cybercrime Really that Bad in the Healthcare Industry?

At this point, you might ask yourself, “Is cybercrime really that big of an issue in the healthcare industry?” According to a HIPAA healthcare data breach report published in August of 2022, that answer is a resounding “yes!”

In that report, researchers found that there were 49 healthcare data breaches in August 2022. This report only included breaches that involved over 500 patient records. The total number of attacks fell below the monthly average of 58 but still represents a significant threat to patient privacy.

In total, there were 345 healthcare data breaches in the first half of 2022. Data breaches perpetrated against the healthcare sector represent a staggering 42% of all breaches between January 1st and July 1st of 2022. 

7 Reasons Hackers Love Targeting Healthcare

Now that we have reviewed the data, let us examine why hackers prefer to target healthcare organizations over many other types of businesses. While there are many variables that contribute to this trend, the 7 reasons outlined below appear to be key driving factors. These factors include:

1. Patient Data Is Valuable

Let us start with the obvious reason that hackers target healthcare institutions. Patient data is valuable. As you are well aware, healthcare organizations are a one-stop shop for all sorts of valuable data, including:

  • Patient date of birth information
  • Names and addresses
  • Credit or debit card information
  • Social Security numbers
  • Email addresses and phone numbers
  • Emergency contact data

If a hacker can make it into a healthcare organization’s network, they can obtain all sorts of valuable data. While hackers sometimes use this data to commit acts of fraud, they more often sell it off to the highest bidder. 

Regardless of what happens with the data once it is in the hands of cybercriminals, your patients’ privacy has been violated. If the hackers use the data to perpetrate acts of fraud, it may take months or even years for the affected parties to recover financially.

Additionally, your organization will suffer potentially irreparable damage to its brand image. This exposure will lead to a loss of trust in the organization and an exodus of patients.

2. Edge Devices Are Vulnerable

Edge devices are pieces of internet-connected equipment that exist at the “edge” of your network. Cumulatively, these devices create the internet of things (IoT). 

The IoT has fueled significant innovation in the healthcare industry. Now, care providers can seamlessly gather vital patient information and upload it into a patient management platform. They can also wirelessly access patient health records, allowing them to provide timely and efficient care.

In the modern healthcare setting, virtually all devices connect to the internet. A few prime examples include oximeters, X-ray machines, CT scanners, and MRI devices.

However, edge devices are not without their drawbacks. Namely, they often serve as points of entry for cybercriminals, as they connect to the internet but are rarely equipped with sufficient security software. 

Edge devices will become increasingly prevalent in the healthcare industry in the coming years. Healthcare organizations should not shy away from using these devices in the name of risk mitigation. However, IT teams must address the inherent vulnerabilities of these devices as part of an overarching data security strategy. 

3. Staff Frequently Access Data Remotely

Speaking of edge devices, these pieces of technology are commonly used to access patient data remotely. To reiterate, the ability to access patient data from anywhere via portable devices has helped make the healthcare industry more efficient overall. 

However, clinicians must be cognizant of cybersecurity concerns when remotely accessing patient data.

Two key concerns arise when staff access data remotely. One is the physical security of the access device itself. You can address this concern by locking devices when not in use so that unauthorized users cannot access them or view patient data.

More importantly, it is critical that providers only access patient data from secure networks. Suppose they will access patient data from personal cellular devices or equipment that is not part of the organization’s secure network. In that case, they must take appropriate measures to protect patient data. 

4. Cybersecurity Education Initiatives Fall Flat

It would be a gross understatement to say that healthcare providers and support staff have a lot on their plate. Providers and their teams must strive to deliver exceptional care while adhering to stringent compliance regulations and operating efficiently. On top of that, they must be mindful of cyber threats and their role in preventing them.

Unfortunately, people in the health care industry often forget that last responsibility. Far too many organizations provide their staff with inadequate cybersecurity training or none at all.

The good news is that you can easily remedy this factor by implementing a well-designed cybersecurity education program. Your program should inform staff members of recent cybercrime trends, provide a refresher on data protection best practices, and explain what role team members play in protecting patient data.

5. Healthcare Facilities Have Poor Tech Visibility

Before a healthcare organization can adequately protect its network, it must first identify all potential access points. This work is easier said than done due to the sheer number of devices present in the average healthcare facility. 

A healthcare facility may have dozens or even hundreds of internet-connected devices, any of which could serve as an avenue of entry for cybercriminals.

If you want to improve your organization’s cybersecurity stance, step one would involve taking a comprehensive inventory of your technology assets. From there, you need to revise your cybersecurity strategy to ensure that it adequately addresses all assets.

6. Patient Data Must Be Both Shareable and Secure

One of healthcare organizations’ biggest conundrums is the great paradox of patient data. Patient health records must stay secure to protect client privacy and comply with HIPAA regulations. However, authorized users must also be able to easily search patient records and locate key pieces of health data to inform care decisions. 

So how does one ensure that data is easily accessible and secure simultaneously? While there is no singular answer, one of the keys is to implement rigorous access-control protocols. 

These protocols prevent unauthorized users from viewing, altering, or receiving confidential patient data while establishing access protocols for providers. 

7. Many Organizations Underestimate Vulnerability

Despite the insurmountable evidence that the healthcare industry is a prime target for cyberattacks, some organizations believe they will never be the victim of a breach. This “it will never happen to me” approach contributes to organizational inaction and lulls healthcare thought leaders into a false sense of security. 

In reality, healthcare organizations should think in terms of “when” instead of “if.” Any sizable healthcare organization will be the target of a cyber attack eventually. Whether that attack succeeds will depend almost entirely on how well the organization prepared.

Those who take a proactive approach to cybersecurity can significantly reduce their exposure to data breaches and other attacks. On the other hand, those who fail to act are gambling with patient privacy and their professional reputations.

Knowledge Is Power: Learn How to Keep Your Practice Secure

Knowledge is power in the fight to preserve your practice’s reputation and protect confidential patient data. By familiarizing yourself with imminent threats and looming concerns that are just over the horizon, you will be better positioned to insulate your organization from cyber threats. 

If you would like to learn more about the latest threats facing the healthcare and dentistry industry, we invite you to explore the Cytek blog library. You can also review other helpful content on our resources tab. 

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