It’s no secret that healthcare is one of the most vulnerable sectors when it comes to hacking attempts. Medical records come with higher black market values than other private information like credit card numbers. As a result, cybercriminals are laying siege on medical data.
With the cost of data breaches historically higher across healthcare companies, securing data storage processes is essential to combating mistrust of medical facilities and care providers. In the aftermath of COVID-19, patients need every bit of security they can get. Understand where healthcare data gets stored and the strengths and weaknesses of these storage systems to approach clients’ or your own data with the necessary caution.
Where healthcare data gets stored
To understand how and where healthcare data is stored, it first helps to understand how it’s collected. In the modern medical field, healthcare administrators of varying roles play a part in data collection. This is due to the increase in connected medical devices that have been instrumental in pivoting information systems to electronic databases.
Smart hospitals collect patient data using a host of devices. These include Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and monitors that report patient and hospital information in real-time, allowing for unprecedented levels of transparency and insight among staff. Then, there are the traditional inclusions of data from X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and more.
With all these tools gathering petabytes (millions of gigabytes) of information per year, that data has to go somewhere. Most care facilities choose to host the information in-house, through private servers and networks. This makes it doubly important for all medical staff to be well-versed in the status of the information systems they use, as changes in EMRs, administrative systems, patient portals, and data security features might all put information at risk.
Alternatively, cloud databases and decentralized storage systems are gaining traction in the medical field. By outsourcing data storage to companies with cybersecurity expertise and the means to back up and secure information, hospitals can mitigate some of the risks. However, these options come with their own set of drawbacks.
Regardless of the approach, care providers face a harsh reality of widespread uncertainty when it comes to data protection. But can healthcare data storage ever really be secure?
Securities and weaknesses
As it currently stands, the healthcare industry does a bad job of managing data security. Only 25% of registered nurses expressed any recent changes in the way their employers protect patient data, while at the same time cyber attacks have been skyrocketing. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we only saw this situation get worse.
For example, one of the most commonly perpetrated attacks against healthcare information systems involves ransomware. Ransomware can seize systems and lock them down, making it impossible for care providers to access the information they need unless a ransom is paid. This happens all the time, with six hospitals hit by Ryuk ransomware in one 24-hour period in October of 2020.
Without active measures in place to continuously improve employee awareness and the quality of cybersecurity protections, healthcare data storage cannot be secure. However, modern cybersecurity efforts have their strengths as well as their weaknesses.
When it comes to protecting patient data, the healthcare industry is at least united by regulations and data management standards. Additionally, the evolving nature of technology holds much promise for building new and comprehensive means of securing information. Here are the strengths to keep in mind:
- Data is protected under the Health Insurance Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA), meaning the federal government enforces cybersecurity best practices among healthcare information systems.
- Cloud solutions offer cheaper and better security for care facilities with the added benefit of reducing the risks of human error in a private network.
- Advancements in blockchain – the technology that makes cryptocurrency possible – are allowing for digital, immutable storage of data in which each patient possesses their own authorization keys.
But even with these strengths, care facilities have to stave off a host of attacks every day. Add to these threats the fact that 18% of healthcare employees admitted that they would sell patient data for profit, and we face many cybersecurity problems in 2021 and beyond. These are the prominent weakness to be aware of going forward:
- Human error was at least a contributor to 95% of all data breaches.
- Telehealth and remote work present more access points for vulnerable information systems.
- Care providers are already overwhelmed by their workload, leaving little room for a focus on cybersecurity.
With these strengths and weaknesses in mind, understand that no healthcare data storage system is truly safe. The risk of human error alone means virtually any system can experience a breach. However, an informed approach and advancing tech can help secure the future of healthcare data.
The Future of Healthcare Data Security
Patient data is attacked wherever it is found. Many corporations are building wellness programs that promote both employee health and provide education as to how to improve and maintain wellness. Don’t just educate your employees on their health, however. Because these programs contain a lot of patient data, educate your employees on how to protect their accounts. By building employee education and integrating the latest cybersecurity technology, healthcare information systems can add much-needed layers of safety.
Whether hospitals are storing information in an in-house network or outsourcing to the cloud, the strengths and weaknesses of data cybersecurity abound. Manage the risks by practicing great digital hygiene, then explore the potential of databases like blockchain for safer data storage.