Check up on Your Virtual Safety: Tips for Telehealth Protection

Check up on Your Virtual Safety: Tips for Telehealth Protection

In a poll conducted by the Canadian Medical Association, nearly half of Canadians have used telehealth services since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, in a recent McAfee study, we found that 21% of Canadians have used the internet for a doctor visit in 2020, and 28% said that such online visits will become a part of their routine moving forward Telehealth, or virtual care. This includes clinical services delivered remotely via electronic communications, such as videoconferencing, mobile apps and remote patient monitoring technology. Many of us have readily accepted these medical services out of necessity, as COVID have limited in-person hospital visits.

Hackers are taking advantage of the rise in virtual health services and exploiting their vulnerabilities to steal sensitive medical records. These vulnerabilities are the result of bigger issues stemming from obscure patient health information regulations and health care system budgetary constraints.

Understanding the risks associated with telehealth is the first step to securing your online safety during your virtual doctor’s visits.

Why Cybercriminals Target Health Care

At the onset of the pandemic, the number of reported Canadian cyberattacks jumped 50% from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020. Health care is one of the most targeted industries for cyberattacks. One attack even compromised the organization that manages Ontario’s medical records. Health care is such a highly targeted industry because it holds a wealth of information that fetches a high price on the dark web. Experts say medical records are more valuable than credit card details due to the amount of vital information stored in them, such as birth dates and patient ID numbers. Hackers can then hold this information for ransom or use it to steal your identity. Further, cybercriminals see health care institutions as easy targets. Canadian health care IT departments have insufficient budgets and are ill-prepared to handle the rising threats.

Canada also does not have federal guidelines governing virtual care and patient health information. Rather, health care providers and virtual care platforms are limited to the broad guidelines outlined by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). As these are not digital security specific purpose defined guidelines and requirements, it makes it more difficult for health care providers and telehealth companies to protect patient data.

Telehealth Risks

Telehealth makes care accessible to everyone; unfortunately, if you’re not careful, telehealth also opens the door for hackers. Hackers can infiltrate the technology used for online doctor’s appointments, because video conferencing technologies have several security flaws. From there, hackers can disrupt calls, eavesdrop and steal your private health information.

The advent of telehealth services has also prompted an increase in emails. Since patients may be expecting emails from their doctor, they may let their guard down and fall victim to phishers posing as a health care organization.

Take Control of Your Health Privacy

Prepare for your next virtual doctor’s appointment with these best practices to secure your virtual safety.

Ask the right questions

Before heading into your next telehealth appointment, ask your health care provider the right questions to online understand what risks you may face. Ascertaining this information will help you understand what actions you need to take to mitigate the risk on your end, like staying alert for eavesdroppers or finding alternative ways to confirm personal information. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • “Do you record your sessions?”
  • “Do you share information with third parties?”
  • “How is my data being used?”
  • “What security measures does your telehealth platform implement? Does it use the highest encryption levels or employ multi-factor authentication?”

Beware of phishing

Phishing is a common tactic hackers use to access private health information and trick users into downloading malware. Beware of seemingly official emails under the guise of your health care provider asking for payment information or prompting you to take immediate action. If the email logo doesn’t look right, the message is poorly written, or the URL displayed doesn’t match the one that’s linked, then it’s likely a phishing scam.

Contact your health care provider before verifying sensitive information online, such as payment details or document transfer methods, to avoid falling victim to phishing. We recommend logging into your healthcare provider’s official website or app to confirm pertinent healthcare information as well. If you accidentally reply to a phishing email, perform a full malware scan on your device to ensure your private information remains secure.

Keep medical apps up to date

It’s important to keep telehealth applications up to date to benefit from the latest bug fixes and security patches. This includes apps belonging to your IoT devices, such as glucose monitors, blood pressure monitors or other network-enabled diagnostic devices. These devices represent more entry points that hackers can infiltrate, making it especially critical to keep them up to date and close any security loopholes.

Elevate your authentication methods

Get creative with your telehealth portal password, or better yet, use a security solution that includes a password management system. McAfee Total Protection includes a robust password management system that creates and saves strong passwords across all your accounts in one centralized location.

Ensure you’re using a telehealth platform that leverages multi-factor authentication, so even if a hacker were to acquire your password, there’s an added layer of security they won’t be able to bypass.

Defend against prying eyes by using a VPN

It’s always best to use a virtual private network (VPN) when conducting activities online, and medical visits are no exception. Using a VPN like McAfee Safe Connect VPN will ensure your data is encrypted and your private health information stays between you and your doctors. A VPN is especially important if you’re connecting from a network other than your password-protected home Wi-Fi.

Take Care of Your Physical and Virtual Health

Medical services are just one of many activities that have turned virtual due to the pandemic. Keep in mind these new virtual outlets come with elevated risks. Hackers are taking advantage of software vulnerabilities and taking victims unaware through social engineering tactics to steal sensitive personal information. Remember to secure your online health by taking a proactive stance against malicious threats so you can focus on your physical health during your telehealth visits.


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