5 Critical Targets Illustrate the Need for Cutting-Edge Healthcare Cybersecurity

By Troy Ament | June 03, 2022

Despite the noble missions of fighting illnesses and saving livings, organizations in today’s healthcare industry are frequently under attack by heartless cybercriminals. Why are healthcare organizations of all shapes and size under constant threat? The reason is simple: data. Extremely valuable personal, medical, and financial data.

Why is Cybersecurity Important in Healthcare?

The attackers’ goal is to steal data and use it to hack other systems, or to sell it to other criminals, or to hold it for ransom. Healthcare cybersecurity is vital and is becoming more important every day because medical organizations are continuing to be more reliant on hospital information systems like electronic healthcare record (EHR) systems and physician order entry systems. The aim of cybersecurity, specifically in healthcare, focuses on preventing cyberattacks by defending these highly important medical systems from unauthorized access, use, and disclosure of patient data. Healthcare cybersecurity and effective healthcare data management is critical to ensure the availability of medical services and confidentiality of patient data, which, if compromised, could put patient lives at risk. This is why healthcare cybersecurity is important.

Healthcare Data Management Plays a Vital Role in Effective Healthcare Cybersecurity

The healthcare industry and medical record systems are very attractive targets for cybercriminals, and as a result, are frequently attacked. Attackers know that any threat to the well-being of patients can make healthcare organizations profoundly uncomfortable and, perhaps, even desperate and more willing to pay ransoms.

Additionally, it isn’t just “back office” management systems that the healthcare industry relies on that are targeted. There are also Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) smart systems that run buildings’ heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), and elevators that can be exploited. And nearer to patient care, medical organizations rely more and more on IoMT devices like blood pressure machines, infusion pumps, and remote monitoring machines that can be hacked and used to gain access to an organization’s network.

Also, the healthcare industry has become more vulnerable as the attack surface expands due to newly deployed technology, telehealth, and other developments. Increasingly, third-party users are invited to access healthcare systems’ network resources. And, new Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices are being added to the network—many of which were not designed with security in mind, and are, therefore, susceptible to cyberattack. Below are five cybersecurity risks in healthcare and three best practices for protecting them.

"Healthcare cybersecurity is critical to ensuring the availability of medical services and confidentiality of patient data, which, if compromised, could put patient lives at risk."

Top 5 Risks in Healthcare Cybersecurity 

To protect patients and their data as well as provide them with the best experience, health networks need holistic, end-to-end cybersecurity in healthcare at every point of care and in every facility. Below is a list of five types of healthcare organization security risks that are frequently targeted by cybercriminals and need to be expertly secured:

1. Email

Email is still the primary means of communication within healthcare organizations making it an obvious method for launching attacks. The type of attacks cybercriminals launch includes phishing, spear phishing, social engineering, and ransomware attacks.

2. IIoT/IoT and IoMT Devices

IoT devices like smart heating systems or remote patient monitoring machines can have a significant effect on patient wellness and are often not very secure. Therefore, they can be attractive targets for cybercriminals looking to gain access to the network.

IoMT devices extend lives, improve the quality of life, improve clinical staff productivity, and make the relationship between the patient and the care team less transactional. In addition, digital technology enables providers in different healthcare organizations to coordinate care more seamlessly. Like IoTs, they aren’t well-protected and can be exploited to gain access into the network.

3. EHR Systems

Medical staff uses electronic healthcare record systems to keep track of patients' information and health history. Obviously, this type of data can be extremely personal and sensitive and if it were to be stolen and made public, much harm could be done with it. This is a perfect scenario for ransomware.

4. Physical Devices

Laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and other physical devices that are used in healthcare situations can be stolen and hacked or manipulated leading to the loss of credentials or other confidential information falling into the hands of those with criminal intent.

5. Legacy Systems

Old but not yet retired systems that are no longer supported by the manufacturer can be an open invitation to cybercriminals. These legacy systems that are still present and prominent in many healthcare organizations are frequently vulnerable to attack. They must receive constant attention to be kept secure and not exploited.

Three Best Practices for Healthcare Cybersecurity 

1.  Establish a Security Culture

Healthcare IT and security professionals can establish a security culture within their organizations by conducting regular risk assessments and providing employee cybersecurity education and training, which must include top management who can easily fall victim to spear phishing attacks.

Other tactics for instilling a security mindset at their healthcare organizations that cybersecurity teams can do include reminding staff to: practice good computer habits, use strong passwords and change them regularly, and be aware of their physical surroundings and the potential for mobile device theft.

2. Develop an Incident Response Plan

CISOs and CSOs need to be prepared and develop solid incident response plans with their IT and cybersecurity teams. It is important for an organization to be proactive and not reactive. It is smart to expect the unexpected and have a plan for it. Cybersecurity vendors have incident response and readiness services that you may want to investigate as you develop your plans.

3. Deploy Security Solutions with Automation and Integration in Mind

Healthcare organizations must have cutting-edge cybersecurity solutions that include next-generation firewalls. Another requirement for healthcare cybersecurity is the installation and maintenance of antivirus software. However, these are just the basics. Segmentation can reduce breach impact as well as other strategic solutions that enable secure telehealth such as Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) and SD-WAN are critical as healthcare continues to evolve.


Keep up with the latest advances in patient care while protecting against cyberattacks with Fortinet’s healthcare cybersecurity solutions.