The healthcare industry has seen a major shift towards telehealth and working from home over the past few years, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
With more healthcare providers conducting appointments, accessing patient records, and performing other sensitive tasks remotely, cybersecurity has become incredibly important to keep patient data secure.
In this article, we’ll explore why cybersecurity is so crucial for healthcare workers operating from home and provide tips on how to keep information safe.
The Rise of Working from Home Creates New Cybersecurity Risks
The healthcare sector has rapidly adopted working from home over the past several years. With telehealth appointments, more providers can safely interact with patients without requiring them to come into a facility. Many administrative healthcare workers have also shifted to remote work to cut down on potential coronavirus exposure.
While this model provides convenience and flexibility, it also introduces new cybersecurity risks that didn’t exist before. When employees use personal devices and home networks for work purposes, there are more opportunities for security breaches and hacking.
Healthcare organizations need to take steps to lock down devices and accounts to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data. Additionally, implementing a ChatGPT VPN can further enhance security by encrypting data transmissions and safeguarding sensitive information from potential threats.
Why Cybersecurity is Especially Important in Healthcare
Cybersecurity should be a priority across all industries, but it’s especially crucial in healthcare. This sector handles extremely sensitive patient information like names, birthdates, Social Security numbers, medical history, prescriptions, and insurance details.
A breach could expose this private data, violating patient confidentiality and trust.
Hackers are also attracted to healthcare systems because the sensitive data can be used for identity theft and insurance fraud. A 2016 study found that stolen healthcare records can fetch up to $363 per record on the black market, compared to just $1-2 for a stolen credit card number. This makes health systems a lucrative target.
Beyond compromising patient privacy, a cyber attack could also disrupt hospital operations and patient care access. The systems healthcare professionals rely on both in facilities and remotely, like electronic health records, could be disabled. This could delay treatments and appointments when patients critically need care.
Securing Devices Being Used for Remote Healthcare Work
One of the first steps healthcare organizations should take to boost cybersecurity for remote employees is securing the devices being used. This includes both organization-provided devices as well as personal ones that employees use for work.
IT teams need to install antivirus software, VPNs, and other endpoint security tools to guard against malware and hacking attempts. They should also configure devices to automatically install the latest security updates and patches to fix vulnerabilities. Setting up multi-factor authentication provides an extra layer of security.
For personal devices, there should be minimum security requirements established, like requiring a password or passcode lock. There may also need to be encryption standards for saving and transmitting files. Training employees on how to physically secure devices they use at home is also key. Moreover, considering a VPN for KaiOS devices can add an extra layer of security, ensuring that data transmission is protected even on these less conventional platforms.
Using Secure Networks and Connections
Along with securing devices, it’s crucial to make sure remote healthcare workers are only accessing patient information over safe, encrypted network connections. Employees should be required to access work resources exclusively through a VPN, avoiding the use of public WiFi networks. Integrating firewalls helps control network access points too.
Healthcare IT teams may also want to disable or restrict access to certain network ports that are commonly used as attack entry points. Settings like remote desktop protocol ports might not be necessary from home and can be shut off. Continuous network monitoring helps identify any irregular traffic that could signal an attack.
Developing and Implementing Security Policies
Comprehensive cybersecurity policies should be developed and shared with all healthcare employees working remotely. This covers topics like:
- Requirements for access controls and passwords
- Encryption standards for data at rest and in transit
- Compliance protocols for accessing systems and resources remotely
- Secure file sharing procedures
- Mandatory security training for employees
- Incident response plan and reporting processes
Policies need to be detailed and regularly updated to address evolving cyber risks. There must also be auditing procedures in place to ensure compliance across the organization.
Limiting Access to Sensitive Data Systems
Along with strong cybersecurity policies, healthcare organizations need to limit which systems and data remote employees can actually access. The most sensitive systems should only be accessible from inside the workplace physically. For example, certain confidential databases or applications might be restricted to on-site use only.
Access should be granted based on each individual’s role and necessity. Administrative staff may only need access to patient appointment scheduling systems while clinicians need to view lab reports and imaging results. Minimizing access allows for stronger monitoring and reduces opportunities for data exposure.
Prioritizing Regular Cybersecurity Training
One of the most important ways healthcare organizations can protect data is by training staff on best practices. Regular cybersecurity training should be required for all employees. This covers risks like phishing, secure passwords, physical security, and reporting responsibilities.
Training should also be continuously updated to address new schemes hackers are using to exploit vulnerabilities. Running simulated phishing attempts and other training exercises reinforces secure habits. Awareness is key to avoiding many preventable incidents.
Quickly Identifying and Responding to Incidents
Despite the strongest precautions, the threat of cyber attacks is never completely eliminated. Healthcare IT teams need to be prepared to rapidly identify and respond to any incidents. Extensive logging and monitoring helps quickly detect irregular activity that could signal a breach. Employees also need to understand their responsibility to report anything suspicious.
Once detected, the organization’s incident response plan should guide containment and remediation steps. Work with cybersecurity partners as needed for large-scale or complex incidents. The priority is assessing the impact and preventing further exposure of information. Notifying patients if personal data was compromised is also critical.
Investing in Regular Risk Assessments and Audits
To identify weak points in their cybersecurity measures, healthcare organizations should conduct frequent risk assessments and audits. Assessments evaluate current policies, controls, and systems to pinpoint risks. Internal and external vulnerability scanning reveals specific flaws or misconfigurations.
Audits then evaluate how effectively standards are being implemented and enforced. This might involve trying to access systems to test access controls or sampling work devices to ensure encryption and security updates are in place. Assessments and audits provide an evolving profile of risk that informs the cybersecurity strategy.
Following Industry Standards and Regulations
Healthcare organizations need to ensure they comply with all applicable cybersecurity regulations and standards. Key requirements include:
- HIPAA: Requires administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to ensure confidentiality and integrity of patient data.
- NIST: Provides in-depth cybersecurity framework with identifying, detecting, and responding to threats.
- ISO: International standards for information security management systems.
- PCI DSS: Required for credit card security management.
- Staying current on any changes or additions to these standards is essential to avoid penalties and ensure best practices. Regulations guide minimum security requirements.
Leveraging Advanced Tools and Technologies
Advanced cybersecurity tools and emerging technologies can also strengthen protections for remote healthcare workers. Options to consider include:
- AI-powered threat detection that identifies attacks and anomalies much quicker than humans.
- Cloud access security brokers (CASBs) that monitor cloud app usage and secure access.
- Micro-segmentation and zero trust network access to isolate systems and restrict lateral movement.
- Passwordless multi-factor authentication via biometrics or security keys to prevent breaches.
- The right technologies provide automation, visibility, and advanced threat prevention across the distributed environment.
Partnering with Managed Security Providers
Given the specialized expertise and resources required to secure today’s remote healthcare landscape, partnering with dedicated managed security providers is an effective strategy. Outsourcing to specialists allows healthcare organizations to tap into advanced tools, 24/7 threat monitoring, and experienced security analysts. This augments internal IT teams.
Key Takeaways on Securing Remote Healthcare Work
Cybersecurity in healthcare has always been crucial, but even more so with the growth of telehealth and remote work trends. Sensitive patient data requires rigorous protections, and distributed environments create new attack surfaces.
By securing devices, connections, and access as outlined above, healthcare organizations can keep data secure even with distributed teams. Training staff, planning response protocols, conducting audits, and leveraging the latest technologies are also essential techniques. With deliberate effort, healthcare providers can guard their systems and patients’ privacy when work happens outside the traditional office.
What are the most common cyber threats facing healthcare?
Top threats include phishing, ransomware, insider threats from employees, attacks on IoT devices, and hacking of cloud platforms and unsecured WiFi networks. Identity theft of patient data is also a lucrative goal.
What penalties can a healthcare organization face for a data breach?
Under HIPAA regulations, breaches affecting 500+ individuals can lead to fines between $100-$50,000 per record. Noncompliance with electronic data security standards can also result in annual penalties up to $1.5 million.
How can healthcare organizations control access to data?
Role-based access controls, multi-factor authentication, session timeouts, remote wiping of devices, and network segmentation are key techniques to control access. Access should be granted on a need-to-know basis.
What endpoint security is recommended for healthcare?
Antivirus, endpoint detection and response (EDR), firewalls, mobile device management, full-disk and removable media encryption, and patch management services should be implemented.
How often should cybersecurity policies be updated?
Cybersecurity policies should be reviewed and updated at least annually. More frequent reviews may be warranted after major incidents or shifts in work models to address new risks. Documentation must stay current.
Working from home has become standard in Healthcare Sector, improving flexibility and safety throughout the pandemic. But this also means prioritizing cybersecurity is more crucial than ever before.
By establishing thorough remote work policies, securing devices, limiting access, and leveraging advanced tools, healthcare organizations can keep sensitive data protected even when outside the office walls. Well-rounded training and preparation further equip teams to respond to emerging threats.
With deliberate cybersecurity measures in place, healthcare providers can keep patient information secure and maintain essential services no matter where the job is done.