The risk to your family’s healthcare data often begins with that piece of paper on a clipboard your physician or hospital asks you to fill out or in the online application for healthcare you completed.
That data gets transferred into a computer where a patient Electronic Health Record (EHR) is created or added to. From there, depending on the security measures your physician, healthcare facility, or healthcare provider has put in place, your data is either safely stored or up for grabs.
It’s a double-edged sword: We all need healthcare but to access it we have to hand over our most sensitive data armed only with the hope that the people on the other side of the glass window will do their part to protect it.
Breaches on the Rise
Feeling a tad vulnerable? You aren’t alone. The stats on medical breaches don’t do much to assuage consumer fears.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that the number of annual health data breaches increased 70% over the past seven years, with 75% of the breached, lost, or stolen records being breached by a hacking or IT incident at a cost close to consumers at nearly $6 billion.
The IoT Factor
Not only are medical facilities vulnerable to hackers, but with the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) consumer products — which, in short, means everything is digitally connected to everything else — also provide entry points for hackers. Wireless devices at risk include insulin pumps and monitors, Fitbits, scales, thermometers, heart and blood pressure monitors.
To protect yourself when using these devices, experts recommend staying on top of device updates and inputting as little personal information as possible when launching and maintaining the app or device.
The Dark Web
The engine driving healthcare attacks of all kinds is the Dark Web where criminals can buy, sell, and trade stolen consumer data without detection. Healthcare data is precious because it often includes a much more complete picture of a person including social security number, credit card/banking information, birthdate, address, health care card information, and patient history.
With this kind of data, many corrupt acts are possible including identity theft, fraudulent medical claims, tax fraud, credit card fraud, and the list goes on. Complete medical profiles garner higher prices on the Dark Web.
Some of the most valuable data to criminals are children’s health information (stolen from pediatrician offices) since a child’s credit records are clean and more useful tools in credit card fraud.
According to Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow, Advanced Threat Research, predictions for 2019 include criminals working even more diligently in the Dark Web marketplace to devise and launch more significant threats.
“The game of cat and mouse the security industry plays with ransomware developers will escalate, and the industry will need to respond more quickly and effectively than ever before,” Says Samani.
Healthcare professionals, hospitals, and health insurance companies, while giving criminals an entry point, though responsible, aren’t the bad guys. They are being fined by the government for breaches and lack of proper security, and targeted and extorted by cyber crooks, while simultaneously focusing on patient care and outcomes. Another factor working against them is the lack of qualified cybersecurity professionals equipped to protect healthcare practices and facilities.
Protecting ourselves and our families in the face of this kind of threat can feel overwhelming and even futile. It’s not. Every layer of protection you build between you and a hacker, matters. There are some things you can do to strengthen your family’s healthcare data practices.
Ways to Safeguard Medical Data
Don’t be quick to share your SSN. Your family’s patient information needs to be treated like financial data because it has that same power. For that reason, don’t give away your Social Security Number — even if a medical provider asks for it. The American Medical Association (AMA) discourages medical professionals from collecting patient SSNs nowadays in light of all the security breaches.
Keep your healthcare card close. Treat your healthcare card like a banking card. Know where it is, only offer it to physicians when checking in for an appointment, and report it immediately if it’s missing.
Monitor statements. The Federal Trade Commission recommends consumers keep a close eye on medical bills. If someone has compromised your data, you will notice bogus charges right away. Pay close attention to your “explanation of benefits,” and immediately contact your healthcare provider if anything appears suspicious.
Ask about security. While it’s not likely you can change your healthcare provider’s security practices on the spot, the more consumers inquire about security standards, the more accountable healthcare providers are to following strong data protection practices.
Pay attention to apps, wearables. Understand how app owners are using your data. Where is the data stored? Who is it shared with? If the app seems sketchy on privacy, find a better one.
How to Protect IoT Devices
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), IoT devices, while improving medical care and outcomes, have their own set of safety precautions consumers need to follow.
- Change default usernames and passwords
- Isolate IoT devices on their protected networks
- Configure network firewalls to inhibit traffic from unauthorized IP addresses
- Implement security recommendations from the device manufacturer and, if appropriate, turn off devices when not in use
- Visit reputable websites that specialize in cybersecurity analysis when purchasing an IoT device
- Ensure devices and their associated security patches are up-to-date
- Apply cybersecurity best practices when connecting devices to a wireless network
- Invest in a secure router with appropriate security and authentication practices
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