Defending healthcare data: How to keep PHI safe from cyberattacks

Author: Tech Advisory

Defending healthcare data: How to keep PHI safe from cyberattacks

Safeguarding protected health information (PHI) is vital for healthcare institutions worldwide. PHI, which encompasses a broad spectrum of data from medical records to financial information related to healthcare, remains a prime target for cybercriminals. The integrity and confidentiality of this information are not only critical for compliance with privacy laws but are fundamental to maintaining patient confidence. Below are some key strategies that healthcare organizations can implement to protect PHI from cyberattacks.

Perform regular risk assessments

To keep PHI safe, healthcare organizations must identify potential vulnerabilities through risk assessments. These assessments involve evaluating the technical, physical, and administrative safeguards in place to protect PHI. Healthcare organizations must look at everything from the devices used to store PHI and the software and network infrastructure to employee practices and policies. Ideally, organizations should conduct annual risk assessments, but this may be more frequent if there are major changes to their systems.

Limit access privileges

One of the fundamental principles of PHI security is limiting access privileges to only authorized personnel. This means implementing strict role-based access permissions, multifactor authentication, and unique user IDs for all employees. By doing so, healthcare organizations can ensure that only those who need access to PHI have it; someone from accounting won’t have access to patient records while a nurse will. This not only helps prevent data breaches but also makes it easier to track who accessed what information in case of any security incidents.

Create a secure network infrastructure

A secure network infrastructure is essential for protecting PHI from cyberthreats. Healthcare organizations should employ firewalls, intrusion detection systems, anti-malware, and virtual private networks to safeguard data transmission over networks. Additionally, organizations should perform regular system updates and install the most recent patches to ensure they are protected from the latest network security threats.

Keep physical devices safe

In addition to digital safeguards, strict physical security measures are also important to protect PHI. This includes securing access points, monitoring and controlling physical access to sensitive areas, and implementing surveillance systems to deter unauthorized entry or tampering with equipment that stores PHI.

Encrypt data

Encryption is a crucial element of PHI security that can prevent stolen or lost devices from leading to serious data breaches. Encryption encodes data into an unreadable format and requires a decryption key to access the information, making it nearly impossible for cybercriminals to gain access without the proper credentials.

For optimal security, organizations should encrypt data both at rest and in transit. This means encrypting data stored on devices such as laptops, tablets, and servers as well as data transmitted over networks.

Back up data regularly

Regularly backing up PHI is essential for ensuring its availability in case of any security incidents or disasters. In the event of a cyberattack, healthcare organizations can quickly restore encrypted data from backups without paying ransomware demands. Organizations should keep backups both onsite and off site to ensure data availability even if one backup system is compromised.

Train employees on security best practices

Negligent employees who fall victim to phishing scams, use weak passwords, or click on malicious links are often the main cause of data breaches. As such, healthcare organizations must invest in regular employee training to educate staff on security best practices. Employee training should cover a wide range of topics such as creating strong passwords, identifying dangerous emails and common online scams, protecting devices containing PHI, and reporting security incidents promptly. Training should be held on a quarterly basis and mandatory for all employees, especially healthcare professionals who may not have a strong technical background.

If you’re responsible for managing PHI in your organization, don’t wait until a breach occurs to take action. Enhance your cybersecurity measures and call us today.

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