In recent years, hospitals and health care providers have transitioned from using hard copy patient data to digital records. Although digital documents create convenience and efficiency for medical professionals who need to share and receive critical patient information, digital recordkeeping also makes health care systems vulnerable to cyberattacks. Discover why hackers target health care patient data and what you can do to protect your organization’s sensitive patient data from attacks.
Why Do Hackers Prefer Health Care Records?
The biggest targets for hackers are not banks and financial institutions; they are medical businesses.
Hospitals and health care systems collect significant amounts of personal information from patients including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, prescription drug information, and more sensitive data. When hackers compromise financial records, financial institutions can respond by issuing new account numbers and flagging fraudulent activity. When hackers compromise medical record security, however, data such as Social Security numbers or confidential medical history information can’t be changed in the same manner as bank account numbers.
Laws and Regulations to Protect Sensitive Patient Health Information
In 1996, Congress enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to improve the effectiveness of the nation’s health care system.
Today, HIPAA regulations encompass protections for sensitive health information. These HIPAA regulations require health care professionals to follow technical, physical, and administrative safeguards for storing and retrieving patient health information. HIPAA regulations also detail specific penalties that both individuals and organizations will face for noncompliance with HIPAA standards.
Although HIPAA laws and regulations do not absolutely guarantee the safety and security of information from hackers at all times, these regulations offer a framework for health care and IT professionals to follow when creating and evaluating processes and systems for protecting health information.
Encryption Is Key to Protection
Health care professionals can put many safeguards into place to protect patient information. In addition to having an IT team that routinely tests the systems for vulnerability, encryption is the most efficient preventive measure. Encryption converts data into a coded form that can be decoded only with special access credentials.
Several options exist for encryption: You can install hard drives that automatically encrypt all information stored on the drives. Depending on the hard drive you choose, you can have your data rendered unreadable in less than a second. Certain types of point-of-sale machines can encrypt financial information the moment someone uses a credit or debit card for payment of health care services.
Other forms of equipment used to gather patient information, such as tablets, now come with encryption options. By enabling encryption selection, professionals can use these encryption-enabled devices at every point of data entry. Apple’s health-based apps are also receiving an encryption upgrade. Mashable reports that the security firm Tresorit is working with Apple to offer increased privacy options and HIPAA compliance standards for Apple’s open-source CareKit platform. Tresorit’s ZeroKit will offer an end-to-end encryption of data and user authentication for health care workers and patients.
Hackers are constantly evolving their skill sets, which can pose challenges for any people who handle sensitive health care data. By applying HIPAA regulations toward working with sensitive information and taking the necessary steps to encrypt health care information, you can help your employer to protect sensitive health care data from hackers.