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Healthcare Data Security

What Is Healthcare Data Security?

Healthcare data security focuses on protecting the data, computers, and networks that healthcare providers and companies use. One of the most important driving factors pushing healthcare data security is Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. These standards provide general direction around how to manage sensitive healthcare data.

HIPPA For Healthcare Data Security

Data security in healthcare, in many ways, revolves around HIPAA. HIPAA outlines the tools and techniques IT teams need to put in place to protect healthcare data. It also details how healthcare providers need to control who sees sensitive patient data.

Seven Risk Factors Associated with Healthcare Data Security

The seven most common risk factors associated with healthcare data include:

  1. Use of outdated/legacy systems
  2. Email scams with malware
  3. Internal employees, contractors, vendors, etc.
  4. Unsecure or poor wireless networks
  5. Lack of strong passwords
  6. Lack of training in data security practices
  7. Failure to always keep data secure

Use of Outdated/Legacy Systems

Outdated systems often have security vulnerabilities that can’t be patched. This is because the manufacturer may have stopped supporting the system and, therefore, discontinued its security updates.

Email Scams with Malware

Because healthcare organizations often have many employees, attackers send malware through email, hoping at least one person installs it on their computer. Malware can then be spread throughout the rest of the network.

Internal Employees, Contractors, Vendors, etc.

Healthcare organizations often have a very diverse mix of people that work for them. Employees, contractors, and vendors are often given access to the healthcare company’s network. For example, if a hacker gets their malware onto someone’s device, every time they access the network, the network is exposed to the attacker’s malware.

Unsecure or Poor Wireless Network

Many healthcare organizations, such as hospitals and clinics, may provide wireless access to patients and visitors. Because these access points may not have adequate security, they are often attractive targets for hackers.

Lack of Strong Passwords

In many organizations, employees may use weak passwords, such as those that they use for other accounts. This makes it easy for hackers to guess employee credentials and then use them to penetrate the network.

Lack of Training in Data Security Practices

When a healthcare organization has hundreds or thousands of employees, it can be hard to make sure they all understand data security best practices. Also, because turnover at some healthcare organizations can be relatively high, it’s very difficult to make sure everyone exercises proper cyber hygiene.

Failure to Always Keep Data Secure

Often, healthcare companies need to send data across campuses, between doctors, and to insurance companies. While they transmit this information, they may not always use secure transmission technology, such as data encryption.

Five Challenges of Healthcare Data Security

Five of the most significant challenges facing healthcare data security teams include Health information exchanges, user error in technology adoption, hackers and the rise of “hacktivism,” the adoption of cloud and mobile technology, and outdated technology

Health Information Exchanges

Health information exchanges need to send and receive data to and from doctors, patients, and insurance companies. Securing these transmissions and making sure those sending information use the proper digital channels can be difficult.

User Error in Technology Adoption

Healthcare professionals may, at times, be so busy that they don’t have the time to invest in properly learning how their technology works. Others may simply not be computer savvy. Regardless of the reason, it’s easy for users to make mistakes as they learn new technologies.

Hackers and The Rise of "Hacktivism"

Hackers often target healthcare organizations because they’re after either the company’s money or the sensitive data flowing through its networks. Also, those involved in hacktivism may choose to hack a healthcare organization just to drive home a point. For instance, attackers may hack a hospital because they disagreed with a decision the hospital made about how to treat a patient.

Adoption of Cloud and Mobile Technology

Even though cloud and mobile technology can make it more convenient to manage healthcare IT systems, they can also present security risks. For example, if a hacker were to steal a doctor’s password or mobile device, they may gain access to a vast payload of sensitive information.

Outdated Technology

Many older technologies have already been breached by hackers. Some hospitals, for example, are full of outdated technology that’s simply too expensive to replace. Because older technology may have vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched by the most recent security upgrades, outdated tech can be easier for an attacker to penetrate.

Four Most Common Healthcare Data Threats

Even though there are many threats to healthcare data, the four most common include phishing, ransomware attacks, data breaches, and DDoS attacks.


Phishing involves a hacker tricking someone into revealing sensitive data. They lure the person in by pretending to be a legitimate friend, colleague, or professional.

Ransomware Attacks

In a ransomware attack, a hacker uses malware to gain control of a computer or network and then demands a ransom in exchange for allowing the victim to access the compromised system again.

Data Breaches

Hackers may steal data to either sell it online or use it to extort or manipulate a healthcare company. In addition, a data breach may be the first step in a ransomware attack. To pressure the victim into paying the ransom, the hacker may threaten to release sensitive information online.

DDoS Attacks

A DDoS attack involves inundating a web server with many false requests, overwhelming it, and interrupting its normal operation. This can make it impossible for the server to provide information to a site’s legitimate visitors.

Six Steps to Protect Healthcare Data

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to for healthcare data protection, including:

  1. Using data encryption
  2. Deploying anti-virus applications
  3. Using system monitoring applications
  4.  Enabling multi-factor authentication
  5. Deploying ransomware protection
  6. Setting up employee training

Use of Data Enryption

Using data encryption, a healthcare company can send sensitive data from one place to another without compromising its safety. This is because, for someone to read it, they would need to have a secret decryption key.

Use of Anti-Virus Apps

Antivirus applications can detect and stop thousands of viruses from getting inside a healthcare organization’s network. Antivirus software can also be used to scan systems for malware that may already be present.

System Monitoring Apps

Using system monitoring applications, an IT team can keep track of which endpoints are connected to the network and inspect the entire system, looking for suspicious activity.

Enabling Multi-factor Authentication

With multifactor authentication, someone trying to access a sensitive area has to provide additional information instead of only their name and password. For example, they may have to answer security questions, present a physical device with authentication credentials on it, or submit biometric data, such as a fingerprint or facial scan.

Ransomware Protection

Ransomware protection consists of antimalware that hones in malware designed to spread ransomware. In addition, some cybersecurity companies provide decryption keys that may be able to give a victim organization control of its system again.

Employee Training

Employee training involves teaching employees how to protect their access credentials, safeguard their devices, and be mindful of cyber threats and the assets they target.

Taking a Proactive Approach to Implementing Best Practices for Healthcare Security

Instead of merely responding to threats as they arise, it’s best to be proactive when defending your organization from attackers. You can create a safer cyber environment by proactively:

  • Making sure that patient information is safe
  • Only allowing authorized individuals to access patient data
  • Ensuring patient data is only used for authorized purposes

5 Steps to Manage a Healthcare Data Breach

If your healthcare organization gets breached, there’s no need to panic. By taking the following five steps, you can minimize any potential damage.

Start Your Incident Response Plan

Your incident response plan will provide you with step-by-step instructions in the wake of a breach. Following these can help everyone involved provide a systematic, cool-headed response to an attack.

Preserve Evidence

The evidence you preserve can serve multiple purposes:

  • The data you gather can be used to catch the cybercriminals responsible for the attack.
  • You can study the evidence you discover to figure out the best ways to avoid a similar incident in the future.

Contain the Breach

Containing the breach typically involves shutting down computers and networks that could be connected to the system that was penetrated. You may also have to contact people or businesses outside your organization’s campus and make sure they don’t try to remotely login to the system until the threat has been eliminated.

Start Incident Response Management

Your incident response management plan can be a powerful tool as you try to get operations running again. In addition to providing steps to mitigate the attack itself, your incident response strategy should also include action steps for employees and executives after an attack. For example, people may have to give their devices to the IT team so each device can be scanned for malware. Once the device has been cleared, the employee can use it to connect to the network again.

Investigate and Fix Your Systems

Investigating and repairing your systems may involve performing thorough malware scans on all devices that were connected during the attack before the assault was discovered, and immediately after the attack. Repairing your systems could range from simply uninstalling malicious malware to completely wiping entire computers and servers, then restoring from backups.

Pros and Cons of Digitization in Healthcare

Digitization in healthcare comes with both benefits and drawbacks.


Digitizing healthcare systems enables organizations to:

  • Centralize their data management
  • Communicate easier with other healthcare organizations, insurers, patients, researchers, and doctors
  • Collect and analyze data to discover ways to improve care, research results, and business efficiency


On the other hand, by digitizing healthcare systems, you may:

  • Provide hackers with vast amounts of data they can use to defraud and steal from people
  • Consolidate multiple digital systems, such as patient information, treatment protocols, and medication information, unifying them under a single solution. Then, if an attacker gains access, they can now get their hands on significantly more data
  • Make it easier for an attacker that steals cloud access credentials to impact cloud-based systems and data.

Future Trends of Healthcare Data Security

One of the biggest shifts the future holds for healthcare data center security may be driven by regulatory changes. Even though HIPAA has helpful guidelines and principles, it lacks specific direction regarding exactly how to use technology to protect specific kinds of healthcare data. Therefore, it’s likely that the sector will soon see more specific regulations designed to tighten how healthcare organizations protect data.

How Fortinet Can Help?

Fortinet provides resources and technical solutions healthcare enterprises can use to better protect their data from attackers. Using the Fortinet Security Fabric, for example, healthcare organizations can protect all areas of their networks, as well as the endpoints that hold and transmit sensitive data.


What is healthcare data security?

Healthcare data security focuses on protecting the data, computers, and networks that healthcare providers and companies use.

How do you secure healthcare data?

Here are steps you can take to protect healthcare data:

•           Use of data encryption

•           Use of anti-virus apps

•           System monitoring apps

•           Enabling multi-factor authentication

•           Ransomware protection

•           Employee training