Data privacy

Data privacy and protection: A must for the healthcare sector

In recent times, data privacy has become a growing concern for businesses across the board, particularly in the healthcare industry. There is a dynamic evolution of rules and regulations governing healthcare data to ensure patients have the security they seek and deserve. With the advent of technology there is an increased utilization of modern technologies, such as cloud, mobile, and next-generation databases, to manage, store, and retrieve such data. These factors put together have made the security of healthcare data a constant challenge for the healthcare domain.

The amount of cyberattacks against businesses is on the rise, with healthcare organizations targeted more frequently. According to a report from cloud security company Bitglass, the security breaches in 2020 were up 55.1% from 2019, affecting more than 26 million people. This number is predicted to rise dramatically owing to the rapid digitization of the healthcare industry. While attackers take seconds to infiltrate an organization, it takes weeks to recognize the breach, mitigate the damage, and deploy defensive resources to prevent such attacks from happening again.

Not only are data breaches a concern for security specialists, but they also affect clients, stakeholders, organizations, and businesses. Regardless of the type of data breach, the consequences are virtually always the same. The healthcare industry is a tempting target for attackers due to obsolete or inadequately secured networks. The amount of crucial sensitive data they hold also accounts for them being the most vulnerable to attackers. Healthcare organizations store a lot of sensitive data within their networks, given the nature of their business. Patient records, for example, usually contain information ranging from security numbers, credit card numbers to information regarding insurance claims. These have become a big attraction for healthcare data theft and misappropriation.

Such sensitive data are invaluable to hackers, as they can either sell it on the dark web, use it to commit financial or identity fraud, or demand a ransom to return it to the victim. A cyber assault will not only bring down the network of a healthcare organization but compound much bigger troubles for their business operations too. Unlike other organizations that may only have to suspend administrative and sales operations, a healthcare institution that experiences network down-times, may be forced to halt patient visits, surgeries, and other medical services. These can have a significant impact on hospitals that care for severely ill patients who require emergency treatment. Hackers are well aware that healthcare organizations are more anxious and desperate than other businesses to avert disruption, hence be more willing to pay a ransom. Universal Health Services announced on September 29 last year that it lost $67m to a Ryuk ransomware attack, forcing them to suspend all user access to their IT applications and related operations in the United States. In July, a data breach at a US medical imaging institution exposed sensitive medical information of several patients, including names, addresses, medical insurance information, and health and treatment details.

Given the sensitivity of healthcare data and the growing threat of information security, it is paramount for healthcare providers to have a highly efficient information security framework in place. The concerned policies should not only secure healthcare data but also anticipate and avoid cybercriminal attacks. Hackers are constantly improvising their methods and approaches, innovating techniques to find and exploit even the most minor flaws in the systems and networks. Considering these sophisticated methods used by cybercriminals to steal healthcare data, hospitals and healthcare facilities must have reliable data protection. Only world-class expert information security professionals can keep the sensitive data of any organization, safe from the hands of such masterminds.

A variety of technologies are available to maintain the security and privacy of volumes of healthcare data. The following are the most extensively utilized technologies:

  1. Authentication

The act of verifying or confirming that assertions made by or about the subject are authentic is known as authentication. It performs critical responsibilities in any company, such as securing access to corporate networks, safeguarding user identities, and guaranteeing that the user is who he claims to be. Most cryptographic systems include some form of endpoint authentication to prevent attacks. TLS and its precursor, secure sockets layer (SSL), for example, are cryptographic protocols that enable security for communications over networks such as the Internet. In addition, the Bull Eye algorithm can help to keep a 360-degree watch on any sensitive data. This technique has been used to ensure data security and handle relationships between duplicated and original data.

  1. Encryption

Healthcare providers must guarantee that the encryption method is effective, user-friendly for both patients and healthcare professionals, and expandable to accommodate new electronic health records. In addition, there should only be a minimum number of keys held by each side. Though there are several types of encryption algorithms that work effectively, selecting appropriate encryption algorithms to enforce secure storage remains a challenge.

  1. Data Masking

Masking substitutes an unidentifiable value for sensitive data items. Since it isn’t a true encryption method, the original value cannot be recovered from the disguised value. It follows a de-identification method that involves masking or suppressing personal identifiers like name and social security number as well as suppressing or generalizing quasi-identifiers like date of birth and zip codes. As a result, data masking is one of the most widely used methods for live data anonymization.

  1. Access Control

Users can enter an information system after being authenticated, with limited access determined by a control policy, often based on the privileges and rights of each practitioner allowed by the patient or a trusted third party. As a result, it is a superior and adaptable system for granting permissions to users.

  1. Train employees on data security

Employees receive data security training to learn how to protect data from destruction, fraud, and disclosure. Since data security can be jeopardized accidentally or on purpose, information security training should address unintentional data mishandling and malevolent attempts. Workplace data security training should be formal and follow a set of guidelines. All employees should be aware that protecting company data is not just the responsibility of the IT department. It is also their obligation. Since data breaches can happen offline, data privacy training should also cover physical security with appropriate policies.

As we enter a new technological era in healthcare, there is a pressing need to adhere to all new patient data privacy, transparency, and personal data control norms. IT solutions in the healthcare business must comply with the prescribed regulations and standards required to prevent cyber threats and guarantee optimum data privacy and security. With the right data protection strategies and solutions, healthcare institutions can securely share data, internally and externally, while complying with the monitoring and reporting standards.

The article has been written by Nitin Gaur, Senior Director – Information Security, Risk and Compliance, Omega Healthcare Management Services

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