The healthcare industry’s rapid adoption of telemedicine technology has been one of the brightest silver linings to emerge from the dark storm clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic. The medical industry has been experimenting with telehealth for decades, but the COVID-19 forced healthcare providers to embrace remote-care options. In addition to the obvious logistical challenges of providing high-quality healthcare via the internet, providers are now facing a new kind of danger: Cybercriminals.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, cybersecurity was a major topic of concern for healthcare providers. Medical data is extremely sensitive, making it incredibly appealing to hackers. In the wrong hands, patient medical records can easily become ammunition for harassment and blackmail. Malicious hackers can also use techniques like system-level ransomware attacks. They block a hospital from accessing its own records until their ransom is paid.
These are serious issues. Previously, the targets of these cybercrimes have tended to be large healthcare companies that can afford to invest heavily in IT security. As telemedicine and other web-based medical technologies become more commonplace, however, smaller healthcare providers are increasingly discovering just how vulnerable their systems are to cyberattacks.
One of the biggest concerns for cybersecurity professionals is the security of the patient’s own home internet network. Internet-connected health monitoring devices can be powerful tools for remote care. Yet, many of these devices were never designed with data security as priority. Often these devices aren’t encrypted, and instead rely on the security of the network they are connected to. This can be a problem if that network is a simple home wifi setup protected by a common, easily guessed password like “123456” or “password.” (Shockingly, both of these passwords are among the most commonly used in home devices according to a 2020 analysis by NordPass.)
If a hacker can access a patient’s home network, accessing that patient’s medical records through their telemedicine connections is easy. The near-complete lack of FDA regulation on telehealth technology also makes this situation worse. Many doctors offer video consultations using free video conferencing tools like Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype, for instance, without needing to meet any additional privacy requirements. It’s not difficult to imagine the damage a hacker could do simply by listening in on these conversations.
Thankfully, the healthcare industry is already taking steps to address the many vulnerabilities of telemedicine. One solution is the adoption of security-focused remote platforms, as well as directory-as-a-service (DaaS) solutions that healthcare providers can use to authenticate, authorize, and manage users, devices, and applications. These cloud-based solutions give small and medium-sized providers HIPAA-compliant options for managing remote care. The best of these tools allows providers to integrate their existing patient-management technology with powerful data-security platforms.
Solutions like these are a huge step in the right direction for telemedicine cybersecurity. They effectively remove many of the most common home network vulnerabilities. Major corporates use DaaS systems to enhance cybersecurity for their remote workers. These solutions also have the advantage of being software-as-service (SaaS) applications. They come with security updates and system upgrades included in the subscription costs. This allows healthcare providers to focus on delivering care to their patients, rather than constantly worrying about keeping on top of new cybersecurity threats.
This an essential consideration, because the COVID-19 pandemic has created a virtual arms race between cybercriminals and cybersecurity firms. Even large, well-funded hospitals with full-time IT staff have fallen prey to ransomware and other attacks in 2020. We can expect the number of attacks to rise over the next few years. There is little publicly available data about smaller-scale cyberattacks in telemedicine. Yet, industry experts at the American Telemedicine Association have warned that telehealth cybersecurity is going to be an increasingly major problem as online care becomes more common.
Managing healthcare cybersecurity risks is tricky. The need for secure, reliable, and HIPAA-compliant telemedicine solutions is growing rapidly. It’s important to understand all of the available options. It’s even more important to work with partners that you can trust.
At Faye, we’ve worked with a wide range of healthcare providers to securely manage and connect users to their IT resources. Contact us today.