A typical healthcare organization will be inundated by 32,000 intrusion attacks per day. Since personal information holds the highest return on investment for cyber-hackers, it means that healthcare companies receive more than twice the incursion attempts that other industries do. “Data-rich healthcare records are worth more than ten times a credit card on the black market,” said Robert Ackerman, founder and managing director of AllegisCyber, a cyber-security venture firm.
As the second largest industry in the United States, healthcare represents a very tempting target for hackers. Part of the problem lies with the healthcare practices used by hospitals and other providers. In a quest to make important clinical data available to clinicians in a timely manner, industry IT security teams leave gaps in online security because implementation of certain tools mean it will impact the flow of information.
When a physician needs access to patient data at a moments’ notice, a slow system may mean precious minutes are lost while they are searching for what they need. It’s a difficult dilemma for both clinicians and patients as IT staff attempt to balance quick access to critical-care biodata against the importance of safeguarding medical information.
In addition, healthcare costs continue to be a challenge as providers, plans and other services scramble to balance budgets. Oftentimes, limited resources are funneled towards the front-end business of updating surgical suites, increasing staff resources, or funding potentially profitable research and development projects. Online security can sometimes end up being a lower priority.
“In aggregate, healthcare organizations on average spend only half as much on cybersecurity as other industries,” Ackerman observed. “For this reason and other reasons, such as the unusually high value of stolen patient records on the black market, attracting extra-large flocks of hackers, hospitals especially find themselves in a never-ending cyber war zone.”
One of the most common, and concerning, trends in cyber-attacks is ransomware. An expert hacker knows that healthcare systems and information are vital and that there are security gaps that can be exploited. Typically, ransomware will be deployed to seize control of critical systems and to turn a quick profit, will hold them hostage until the organization agrees to pay a ransom for the release.
Another emerging issue in cyber-security is the advent of the internet of medical things (IoMT). Wearable devices, online patient portals, and digitized health data means more information is easily available but also means there are more opportunities for cyber-attack. A new level of integration means new vulnerabilities never before encountered – even to the individual patient. Ackerman shared a recent example: “A few years ago, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s doctor disabled his pacemaker’s capabilities because there were concerns about reports that attackers could hack such devices and kill the patient.”
For the future, advances in artificial intelligence can be used to move beyond blocking hacker-attacks on health systems. Machine learning can help detect behavior of intruders once they’re in the network by flagging anomalous behavior – such as logins from unrecognized locations – in large, changing data sets. While healthcare may not always be able to stay ahead of cyber-hackers, they may be able to keep pace with them with investment in the right products and practices to keep their information safe.