As healthcare integrates increasingly digital processes into its operations, the need for robust security measures increases. For many of us, visiting our healthcare provider involves filling out forms that are then transferred into an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system. We put our trust in these healthcare institutions, expecting them to take the necessary steps to store our sensitive data securely. However, with a significant rise in medical data breaches, a whopping 70% increase over the past seven years, it has become more important to understand how these breaches occur and how we can protect ourselves.
Recently, LabCorp, a medical testing company, announced a breach affecting approximately 7.7 million customers, exposing their names, addresses, birth dates, balance, and credit card or bank account information. This breach occurred due to an issue with a third-party billing collections vendor, the American Medical Collection Agency (AMCA). Not long before this, Quest Diagnostics, another company collaborating with AMCA, experienced a similar breach, affecting 11.9 million users.
What makes Medical Data a Target for Cybercriminals?
Medical data is, by nature, nonperishable, making it a highly valuable asset for cybercriminals. This means that while a credit card number or bank account detail can be changed if compromised, medical information remains constant, maintaining its value over time. This also suggests that once procured, this information can be used for various malicious activities, from identity theft to extortion.
Realizing that the healthcare industry is riddled with various security vulnerabilities is crucial. Unencrypted traffic between servers, the ability to create admin accounts remotely, and the disclosure of private information are all shortcomings that these cybercriminals can exploit. With such access, they can permanently alter medical images, use medical research data for extortion, and much more. According to the McAfee Labs Threats Report, the healthcare sector witnessed a 210% increase in publicly disclosed security incidents from 2016 to 2017, resulting from failure to comply with security best practices or address vulnerabilities in medical software.
What can Users do to Protect their Information?
While the onus lies on healthcare institutions to ensure the security of patients’ data, there are several steps that individuals can take on their own to safeguard their privacy. These steps become particularly pivotal if you think your personal or financial information might have been compromised due to recent breaches. In such instances, following certain best practices can significantly enhance your personal data security.
1. Placing a Fraud Alert
One such measure is placing a fraud alert on your credit. This effectively means that any new or recent requests will be scrutinized, making it challenging for fraudulent activities to occur. Additionally, the fraud alert enables you to access extra copies of your credit report, which you can peruse for any suspicious activities.
2. Freezing your Credit and Vigilance
Another effective step you can consider is freezing your credit. Doing so makes it impossible for criminals to take out loans or open new accounts in your name. However, to execute this effectively, remember that credit needs to be frozen at each of the three major credit-reporting agencies – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
Moreover, vigilance plays a critical role in protecting your personal data. Regularly checking your bank account and credit activity can help you spot any anomalies swiftly, allowing you to take immediate action.
McAfee Pro Tip: To lock or to freeze? That is the question. Credit lock only offers limitations in accessing an account. A credit freeze generally has more security features and financial protections guaranteed by law and the three major credit bureaus, so you’ll have more rights and protection if identity theft, fraud, scams, and other cybercrimes occur with a credit freeze compared to a credit lock. Learn more about the difference between credit freeze and credit lock here.
3. Consider Using Identity Theft Protection Services
Identity theft protection services offer an additional layer of security to protect your personal as well as financial information. They actively monitor your accounts, provide prompt alerts for any suspicious activities, and help you recover losses if things go awry. An identity theft protection service like McAfee Identity Theft Protection can be beneficial. Remember, however, that even with such a service, you should continue practicing other security measures, as they form part of a comprehensive approach to data security.
These services work in the background to ensure constant protection. However, choosing a reputable and reliable identity theft protection service is essential. Do thorough research before committing and compare features such as monitoring services, recovery assistance, and insurance offerings. This step can help protect you not only during medical data breaches but also on other digital platforms where your personal information is stored.
4. Be Vigilant About Checking Your Accounts
If you suspect your personal data has been compromised, you should check your bank account and credit activity frequently. Regular monitoring of your accounts empowers you to stop fraudulent activity. Many banks and credit card companies provide free alerts—through an email or text message—whenever a new purchase is made, an unusual charge is noticed, or your account balance drops to a particular level.
Besides, you should also consider utilizing apps or online services provided by banks and credit companies to keep an eye on your accounts. Such tools can help you track your financial activity conveniently and take instant action if any suspicious activity is spotted. Regularly updating your contact information with banks and credit companies is also important, as it ensures you receive all alerts and updates on time.
Increased digitization in the healthcare sector has brought convenience and improved patient services. However, it also presents attractive targets for cybercriminals eager to exploit vulnerabilities for personal gain. Medical data breaches are concerning due to their potential long-term impacts, so it’s critical to protect your personal information proactively.
While healthcare institutions must shoulder the primary responsibility to safeguard patient information, users are far from helpless. By placing a fraud alert, freezing your credit, using identity theft protection services like McAfee Identity Theft Protection, and maintaining vigilance over your financial activity, you can form a comprehensive defense strategy to protect yourself against potential breaches.
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