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Andy Reed
/ Categories: Long-Term Care

Cybersecurity For Long-Term Care Providers

Emergency preparedness for cyber attacks has never been more critical for healthcare providers — or more overlooked.

In fact, only 22 percent of industry professionals say their healthcare organization follows the industry’s cybersecurity best practices. That means 78 percent of organizations and their employees operate without proper internal controls or in-depth knowledge of secure systems, data privacy or malpractices.

Is your healthcare or long-term care organization doing all it can to remain cyber secure, or is it coasting along while crossing its fingers? The answers may surprise you.

 

What Is Cybersecurity and Why Is It Important?

Cybersecurity refers to today’s defenses of networks, data systems and programs from outside digital attacks. Holistic cybersecurity maintains safe and secure computer networks and all their accompanying data, files and programs while protecting against breaches, leaks or unauthorized access.

Think of it like a moat and castle for your long-term care organization’s online information. Anything employees input into a computer — from medical charting to payment processing to clients’ personal information — can be the target of a cyber attack in the healthcare industry.

Attackers use this personal information for several malicious intents, including identity theft and stealing credit card or banking data.

Cybersecurity is imperative in today’s digital age to prevent these kinds of attacks. Not only do these comprehensive measures protect the day-to-day operations of a business, but they achieve many other technological and public relations essentials:

 

  • Ensure your organization’s data and security is compliant with government regulations
  • Relay and maintain consumer trust
  • Bolster the reputation of a brand and company name
  • Protect and educate employees on cutting-edge industry practices
  • Manage a smooth and mutually beneficial relationship between providers and consumers​

 

Cybersecurity for Long-Term Care Groups 

On top of providing an enhanced quality of life and the utmost autonomy for clients and their families, long-term care organizations need to be as trustworthy and transparent as possible — not only in the way they conduct healthcare operations but also the back-office or behind-the-scenes processes that help the organization run in the first place.

For assisted living and long-term care health providers, consider the following ways in which increased cybersecurity stands to benefit your organization: 

 

  • Supports HIPAA mandates and regulatory measures with which you must already comply
  • Sets your organization as an ethical standard in the healthcare industry
  • Bolsters the trust and confidence that’s critical to your patients and their loved ones
  • Shows your company’s proactive — not reactive — culture
  • Sets you apart from industry competitors, who may not be as transparent about their information-technology activities — or speak of them at all
  • Guarantees smooth prevention, detection and mitigation readiness in the event of any suspicious activity

 

No business or organization is immune to security threats. Long-term care security must exist for a brand to represent and maintain its reputation. After all, this reputation is at the heart of everything a health service provides.

 

How Does Cybersecurity Prevent Attacks? 

Organizations can adapt and implement cybersecurity practices through a series of steps. These steps work to safeguard your clients’ most sensitive information, as well as buffer and build your overall computer networks and programs to make them as secure as possible.

These combined efforts detect and prevent attacks, as well as respond to threats in real time. Read on to learn the most common cybersecurity measures you can employ to avert attacks today.

Internal Controls

  • First, a healthcare or long-term care provider can implement audits on current digital practices. These processes serve as an initial layer of cybersecurity defense and give your organization an overall roadmap to handle, store and retrieve current data.
  • Identify internal and external parties who have access to personal information, including full- and part-time employees, contractors, staff on assignment, service staff, emergency staff, third-party vendors and more.
  • Review how sensitive information enters your systems, plus when, how often and by whom.
  • Review data-input training. What are the formal and informal training processes that teach an employee to archive patient information? Do these sessions include IT professionals who provide training on relevant cybersecurity practices?
  • Assess any patient information transactions that occur within your organization. How are these transactions communicated? What digital channels are in use, and are there proper security measures installed?

 

System Safeguards 

Next, cybersecurity measures address the actual computer — its programs, operating systems and storage. System safeguards are identified and constructed to protect these computer programs and keep all their digitized information and code hidden. 

  • Firewalls: Anti-virus and antispam firewalls, or security software, are installed to keep malicious computer programs from hacking and accessing your data.
  • System updates: Regular updates on security software, plugins, applications, browsers and third-party applets ensure out-of-date programs get refreshed and old system weaknesses get patched.
  • Password changes: Implementing routine password changes for employees and for accessing individual computer programs remains a key system safeguard. Mandate passwords to be at least eight characters long, with a mix of uppercase, lowercase, numeric and special characters. Recent studies show that it is best to change strong passwords frequently — at least every three-to-six months.

 

Enhanced Securit Measures

Your organization can adopt additional security measures to prevent cyber attacks, ones that are as cutting-edge as they are cost-effective.

  • Encryption: Encrypting all housed data is a growing cybersecurity trend to prevent attacks. Healthcare organizations encrypt data by using in-house or third-party partners who translate all data into a secret code and then file it away. These translated files can only be read by programmed owners who have an encryption key, or by individuals who input an encryption code to “unlock” the file. 
  • Online security monitoring: Many third-party organizations can run 24/7 security motorizations that track website traffic and program use, even remotely. You receive alerts and updates and can sometimes even disarm, or shut down, parts of your network if suspicious activity occurs.
     

Testing and Rapid Response

Last but not least, comprehensive cybersecurity measures will test your entire computer network for weak spots, finding and fixing security gaps before hackers do.

  • Penetration testing: Penetration tests are planned attacks your organization can initiate to identify vulnerable system areas. They scan and gain access to your computer’s applications and network, giving you valuable insight into the adequacy of your current security measures.
  • Incident response plans: Using all the tools and knowledge of your cybersecurity efforts, your healthcare organization can create an incident response plan in the event of a security breach. Incident response plans guarantee a smooth and proactive action sequence to manage and address any complications, saving you time, money and brand trust.
     

Keep in mind, cyber risks are continually adapting. As technology and digital trends continue to change, so too must cybersecurity prevention strategies.

 

Why Long-Term Care Organizations Need Cybersecurity

Long-term care and assisted-living organizations hold a unique place in the healthcare field — and, indeed, across most industries.

They provide thousands of individuals with quality, compassionate care during some of the most poignant phases of life. They are mission-driven and people-first, doing more than just providing medical oversight. These organizations are also community-focused, not only caring for their patients but also their web of family members, friends and loved ones.

Unfortunately, this very nature leaves healthcare and assisted-living organizations vulnerable to attack.

The most likely targets for individual cyber attacks — including phishing, email scams, network attacks and data stealing — are the elderly. Likewise, health care is the most at-risk industry for massive data attacks and breaches, even more so than often-assumed leading targets like banks and investment firms.

Combined, this creates an atmosphere of concern for long-term care organizations and the populations they serve. With hackers targeting this industry more and more, it falls on healthcare organizations to bolster their operations and take this evergreen threat seriously.

In particular, long-term care organizations need to protect against the following cyber threats both for themselves and for their communities:

 

  • Malware: Malware is a harmful type of software that gets downloaded onto a server, computer, or phone often unbeknownst to you. Once downloaded, malware can act as a spy within your system, monitoring computer activity, retrieving stored data, looking up personal information and building digital “back doors” that allow external users to enter your network undetected.
  • Phishing attacks: Hackers who carry out phishing attacks disguise themselves as trustworthy sources, either an individual, company or service, to gather personal information directly from a patient. Phishing attacks routinely target less computer-literate populations like the elderly via email to solicit usernames, passwords and even credit card information.
  • Online scams: Healthcare professionals and institutions are particularly at risk for financial-based fraud. Here, hackers impersonate individuals within a healthcare network to initiate money transfers or open credit accounts. They do so after accessing medical professionals' or centers' credentials to appear legitimate, including Drug Enforcement Agency ID numbers, medical licenses and pharmaceutical certificates.
  • DDoS attacks: Distributed denial of service, or DDoS, is a phrase that refers to increasingly popular operations that flood a network until it becomes overwhelmed and shuts down. For long-term care providers and related industries, a broken network poses substantial risks, including losing appointment schedules and requests, stalling test results, blocking patient records and transferring any treatment information.
  • Data breaches: The broadest and widest-reaching cybersecurity threats, healthcare data breaches target personal health information (PHI) to sell on the black market. Medical databases store large swaths of PHI, and PHI is also the most valuable material sold on the black market today — more so than credit card information and Social Security numbers.

 

Cybersecurity Policies and Procedures for Health and Long-Term Care

Luckily, there’s an ever-growing body of products, procedures and technologies long-term care professionals can adopt to bolster their cybersecurity efforts. The safest patient-data infrastructures will follow these general policies and practices.

 

Policies

All care and service employees should be familiar with formally written and installed guidelines, and they should be part of an organization’s internal structure. Policies related to cybersecurity should all reinforce:

  • Proper compliance with HIPAA and CMS conditions of participation, as well as any additional local or federal healthcare regulations.
  • A sense of structure and stability when responding to detected or revealed cyber threats.
  • Accountability in the event of a data breach, scam or fraudulent activity.
  • Clear and understandable role-specific actions in the event of a data breach, scam or fraudulent activity, so all employees and service contractors can respond with quick and appropriate behavior.
  • Mirror health care’s code of ethics and best professional practices.​

 

Procedures

Long-term care institutions must also apply the very policies they preach. Alongside these formal written rules, these organizations can practice and update cybersecurity measures through:

  • New employee orientations. When training new staff, be sure to include sessions on the proper care, input, transfer and handling of all personal health information.
  • Recurring employee training. Review and assess these patient-data storage and retrieval procedures, as well as review any new software programs or updates that affect patient data systems.
  • Adopt access control. Identify key stakeholders and employees who need unimpeded access to patient data. Ensure controlled access throughout any employee transitions.
  • Anonymize and encrypt personal data whenever possible. This step protects against malware and other cyber threats, while additionally ensuring only authorized individuals can access and read sensitive information.
  • Pair every action step with a role. Leave no cybersecurity-related role up to interpretation. Make sure every employee knows their responsibilities in both day-to-day data protection and in more extreme cases of attacks and breaches.

 

How to Prepare for a Cyber Attack

Given the sensitive nature of long-term care organizations and the populations they serve, plus the black-market value of PHI, it’s never been more important to handle and host patient data safely. Your long-term care organization can begin preparations today by partnering with industry cybersecurity specialists like Prelude, in three relevant stages. 

 

Prevention

  • Install email and spam filters. The recommendation may seem obvious, particularly if you use an email system with built-in spam detection. However, don’t assume you have everything you need. Services like Prelude build advanced email and spam filters that are more sophisticated lines of defense against fraud and phishing attacks, not to mention other issues like drive-by downloads or particularly tech-advanced malware.
  • Set up proxy servers with thorough protective measures. The very nature of healthcare and long-term care services often requires proxy servers. These are digital gateways of sorts, a go-between that connects your in-house computers and network with external servers and the wider Internet. Prelude provides proxies for Internet connections, which help you keep up with increased external traffic and requests, plus securely manages and funnels network messages with web filtering management applications. Since proxy servers are the frequent target of malware attacks, Prelude can help shore up their defenses to keep your data and web transactions secure.
  • Implement the latest link analysis, URL and attachment sandboxing. For email security, in particular, use sandboxing technology to track and identify inbound links and attachments before you open them. Prelude provides link and attachment analysis and will flag suspicious materials in its full-package anti-SPAM solution, which then prevents employees from clicking problematic or suspicious content. Once a contaminated link or attachment enters your systems, it's expensive and time-consuming at its very least to remove. Prelude helps you filter it from the start. 

 

Detection

  • Conduct advanced malware analysis. Whether your service stores patient data in the cloud or in-house, installing and maintaining an advanced malware analysis suite will ensure everything remains uncompromised and secure. Prelude provides malware protection with best-of-breed EndPoint Protection products from trusted software like McAfee, Malwarebytes and more. We help you install and manage this protective software and make it work for your network needs, on-site or remotely. 
  • Undergo penetration testing. Conduct penetration tests or partner with a third-party service like Prelude to find and assess security loopholes your organization might have. What's more, full-service IT outsourcing operations like Prelude already run frequent penetration tests on our own data centers using industry-leading security scanning tools. These same tools can be packaged and brought straight to your care facility to tests to run in-house penetration tests. 
  • Regularly update plugins. Popular plugins such as Java, Adobe, Adobe Flash and certain Microsoft extensions are the most predisposed to outside attacks. Never skip updates on them, as old versions are prone to gaps and holes attackers can manipulate. A security partner like Prelude will perform regular software tests to ensure your applications are up-to-speed, plus check them against our own inventory management software for maximum plugin protection.

 

Mitigation

  • Devise a crisis communication plan in the event of a data breach. On top of formal data policies and procedures, ensure your long-term care institution has an in-depth, actionable crisis communications plan. These plans outline your step-by-step, internal and external processes to handle a data breach, including reporting the breach with relevant authorities, notifying affected patients, addressing the source of the breach and shoring up system defenses. All this is part of larger IT strategic planning, which Prelude regularly consults on. 
  • Consider cyber-insurance policies. Growing waves of healthcare institutions have turned to cyber-insurance for assurance their business will remain protected in the event of a cyber breach. These policies work like other insurances, providing recovery funds for damages accrued because of cyber attacks as well as coverage from certain legal ramifications.

 

Does Your Cybersecurity Meet Your Healthcare Organization’s Needs? 

Bringing your long-term care security up-to-date is easy and effective with the right partner.

Prelude Services delivers innovative and cost-effective IT solutions to more than 700 senior living, long-term care, affordable housing and community service organizations across the nation. Our clients depend on us just as your patients depend on you, with unique expectations we continually exceed.

 

Longterm Care IT Services In Central PA

Contact our team of IT experts today, or submit a service request to see what Prelude Services can take off your long-term care plate.

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