The Hacking of Health Care and the Need for Better Cybersecurity

Health care organizations are tasked with providing great patient care – and user experience – in a world where digital threats are increasing every day. From telehealth applications to electronic health records (EHR) systems to connected medical devices, there is an abundance of technology, applications and data that must be secured. But health care remains one of the most targeted industries for cyberattacks.

Intensified Cyberattacks on the Health Care Industry 

The initial months of the pandemic in 2020 brought an uptick in cyberattacks against health care targets. But the health care industry saw a significant increase in cyberattacks in the first half of 2021. Last year was a dire year for cyberattacks and data breaches with security incidents increasing by 185% over 2020. The first half of 2022 has seen an increase in hacks and information breaches over the same period in 2021.

According to data provided to the federal government, more than 40 million patient records were compromised by November 2021. Some networks have been down for weeks at a time, leading to disruptions in care. To make matters worse, some health care providers are facing legal action following the data breaches. And with the FBI and DOJ warning providers about the potential for being hacked, it’s no longer a question of “if” but a question of “when.”

Many of these attacks come in the form of ransomware. Ransomware is costly, can interrupt patient care and is even linked to increased mortality. Ransomware attacks can come in many forms but it’s often through phishing emails and attacking unsecured systems directly. This  highlights both the challenges of worker awareness and keeping a complex environment with disparate systems secure.

“To deliver higher quality care at a faster pace, hospitals and clinics are now moving patient records to the cloud, adopting IoT devices, and more. Yet, doctors, nurses, and staff members may not have the time or necessarily the education to understand the cyber risks inherent to new technologies — they simply need the devices and systems to work,” said Jonathan Tan, Managing Director, Asia, McAfee Enterprise in a TechWire Asia interview.

Healthcare Cyber Security Challenges

The challenges that the health care industry faces are not new. Hospitals are known to have devices and machines that are unprotected and thus are vulnerable to attack. Hospitals and other health organizations may have networks that lack segmentation and or have not taken a zero trust approach, making it easy for hackers to exploit security gaps and traverse the network. In addition, this Healthcare Data Breach report found that third-party business associates were responsible for 43% of breaches, in part at least because they lacked the secure health care information management measures that are needed to protect data.

The advent of EHR, or Electronic Health Records, introduced a challenge for the industry. Highly valuable patient information became available online, and thus was vulnerable. Health care organizations – in order to restore access to such records that are subject to ransomware attacks – are more likely to pay to meet the demands of attackers. In 2020, this cost the industry $21 Billion. EHR can be more valuable to hackers because of this; not only is there personal information to steal, but they can also file fraudulent insurance claims.  When EHR systems are affected by cyberattacks, it can disrupt operations and patient care.

Secure Health Care Information Management Strategies

The overarching strategy for health care is to embrace digital transformation but with a focus on delivering an excellent patient experience. This requires prioritizing the resources to implement, support and protect the technology that allows patients to connect to and take control of their health care. Providers can drive better health outcomes by keeping telehealth and telemedicine options available for their patient community. In this way, digital transformation can have a direct impact on a patient’s health by lessening potential delays to care.

Digital transformation for the health care workforce means providing one stop access to all applications and data as well, thus increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of workers, especially those who are patient-facing. Leaders report that business and technology goals are unifying as digital transformation takes hold. Secure health care information management must be a priority.


In order to avoid ransomware attacks, the first step is to educate the workforce about how to improve digital hygiene, including steps to avoid phishing. With digital transformation, it is key that each resource be trained to deal with the new digital realities they will encounter, but the challenge is that clinicians and some support staff are focused on patient needs rather than on technological tools. Educating team members on phishing, which is largely preventable, would lessen the impact of ransomware. Professional organization HIMSS asserts, “Regular security awareness training is essential to cybersecurity in health care so that workforce members are aware of threats and what to do in case of actual security incidents.” Cybersecurity is a crucial component and exists on a curve.

Many organizations have security that is fragmented. By shrinking the attack surface to minimize points of access and removing trust so that hackers will not have an easy time gaining entry to and navigating networks, assets can be secured. This is part of moving from foundational and core security measures to having a clearly articulated and implemented zero trust solution.

Implementing modern identity management is also a crucial part of any digital transformation. Modern identity management allows for privileged access management and identity governance auditing which are both key to providing secure and auditable access. Identity management can strengthen authentication through multiple factors (MFA) which makes it harder for hackers to gain access. An additional risk to EHR is that they may not naturally connect to lifecycle management. By integrating your EHR with an identity tool, you can provide the means to ensure that access is created, updated or deleted as needed.

Health care may be under ongoing attacks, but leaning into digital transformation, while implementing practical steps such as training, a cybersecurity plan and modern identity management can help to greatly mitigate potential damage. BeyondID health care IT consultants have cyber security services and solutions to aid health care institutions with their secure information management journey.

Picture of Buck Krawczyk
Buck Krawczyk

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