By Mandry Technology
It might come as a surprise, but cybersecurity is critically important in the dental space. Cyber risk extends beyond possible harm to the organization; it has the potential to impact patients as well. It’s crucial that dental practices understand the threats and vulnerabilities their technologies pose and take steps to secure those weak points. This article will explore cyber risks dental practices face and how to guard against them.
How to Protect Against Common Dental Practice Cyber Threats
There are many “points of entry” in any organization’s technological infrastructure where a breach could happen. To help mitigate cyber risk, those entry points need to be properly protected. Below are some common ways organizations experience data breaches and some steps that can be performed to secure against them,
Imagine a dental practice as a castle with a gate. All internet traffic into and out of the organization should pass through that gate. Firewalls are the soldiers who stand guard at that entry and exit point, but they can’t protect the entire structure. If someone wanted to tunnel in, for example, the guards wouldn’t be much help, which is similar to what can happen if someone gains administrative access to the environment. Business- or enterprise-grade edge protection is worth the investment. Too often, practices opt for lower cost, consumer-oriented devices that are not built to protect a business environment.
It’s tempting to think updating an application will just get you the latest features, but really, keeping systems and tools up to date is a cybersecurity best practice because patches and releases often contain security fixes that quite literally “patch” weak entry points.
It might be one of the most basic cyber risk management practices (and possibly the most overlooked as a result), but requiring strong passwords is an easy and effective step to safeguard data. Take it a bit further with multi-factor authentication (MFA), which requires input beyond a password like scanning a fingerprint, receiving an access code via mobile device, or answering a security question.
While it’s no reason to lose faith in the employee base, the truth is the vast majority of healthcare cybersecurity incidents can be traced back to employees (81 percent, actually). This is ultimately a reflection on the organization’s employee awareness training, web filtering, phishing simulations, etc. as well as their control over the devices employees use for work-related tasks, which is becoming increasingly complex as remote work becomes the norm. Effective cybersecurity education should be part of onboarding, and ongoing training and pressure testing should be part of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy. Choose effective training over easy training to get the best results. Be sure policies are clearly outlined and failure to adhere to them has consequences, not only for effectiveness, but to comply with HIPAA requirements
Risks Associated with Cybersecurity for Dental Practices
Understanding the ways cybercriminals can inflict harm to dental practices and their patients is key to managing cyber risk. There are multiple reasons practices should take their cybersecurity hygiene seriously, including the costs associated with breaches; regulatory compliance requirements; and, perhaps most importantly, patient safety.
Cost of Breach
Healthcare patient data is the cream of the crop when it comes to potential information to steal and resell. It can be used for a long time for all sorts of nefarious acts like creating new identities or credit facilities. Bad actors can get a higher price for selling patient information than they can get for selling information from any other industry, which is why healthcare experiences more ransomware attacks at a higher cost than any other industry. Not only is the stolen information sold for top dollar, but the breached organization is left with the significant financial burdens associated with addressing the current breach and preventing future ones. This results in higher costs to protect that data as well, but dental practices that have the foresight to get out ahead of the problem will fare better in the long run.
The reason breached healthcare patient data sells for such high prices is because it’s important. Dental practices are held to the same HIPAA standards as other healthcare organizations, which serve as rules for how to safeguard this sensitive data. These include everything from the HIPAA Privacy Rule for using and disclosing protected health information (PHI) to the HIPAA Security Rule for securing and maintaining the integrity of PHI to the Omnibus Rule that requires healthcare organizations’ business associates to comply with HIPAA regulations to the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule that governs what to do in the event of a breach. These rules exist because they’re necessary to keep healthcare organizations operating and serving their patients effectively. Having cyber risk management measures in place is a critical component of complying with these rules.
Patient, Employee, and Practice Safety
When bad actors create new identities from compromised Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and PHI, they cause a detrimental ripple effect throughout the healthcare system. Patients’ medication records and health histories are no longer reliable. Providers must take steps to verify extensive amounts of information, which can delay treatment at best or, if not done properly, could result in the wrong treatment, which is extremely dangerous. The dangers don’t apply only to patients though. Personal employee information can just as easily be breached (think social security numbers) as well as the dental practice’s critical financial information.
Dental practices that are serious about protecting their organizations against cyber risk can take some fairly simple steps to help secure their environments. The sad truth in this digital age is the more our technology advances, the more the ways to exploit it develop as well, and most organizations are going to experience some sort of breach. But the more dental practices understand not only the gravity of the threats to their organizational success but also where those vulnerabilities exist and how to protect them continuously, the more they can soften the blow if an attack does happen.