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Cybersecurity in Healthcare: Protect Your Dental Office Against Hackers and Other Threats

Posted on: September 28, 2017


written by

Evan Wade

Are Dentists At Increased Risk Cybersecurity

The year 2017 hasn’t been the best for cybersecurity. Public- and private-sector entities around the world have been hit again and again, with the early summer months producing some of the most disheartening rates of cyberattacks in years. In fact, these breaches have been so damaging and widespread that Microsoft patched an operating system it officially stopped supporting three years ago — a sure sign that measures in cybersecurity for healthcare and other industries are in need of improvement.

It’s a simple fact that healthcare organizations are a primary target for these kinds of attacks. The amount of data and money channeled through their operations is simply too big and too valuable for attackers to ignore. And while nationwide system attacks with tens of millions of affected users naturally grab headlines, the data and money flowing through smaller practices is just as valuable.

Cybersecurity for healthcare is a hot topic today. With malware and ransomware attacks growing in frequency and intensity, are dental offices at increased risk?

Dentists and Cybersecurity: Risk Factors

Sadly, the answer appears to be a resounding yes. Though dental offices aren’t necessarily at any greater risk than other businesses of a similar size, the cybersecurity concerns of these smaller organizations do apply to the dental field.

Although all organizations should be concerned about their cybersecurity, smaller organizations are at an inherent disadvantage compared to their larger counterparts. The data and revenue dental offices generate make them attractive to cybercriminals by default. Throw in looser security standards and substandard cybersecurity budgeting and you have an irresistible launching point for modern cyberattackers: Small businesses like dental offices receive more than 40 percent of all attacks.

When it comes to cybersecurity for dental offices, attacks such as ransomware have a higher-than-average chance of success. Being forced to pay $500 or more is a minor inconvenience when the alternative is being locked out of all your computer systems and files including billing info, records, and other data dentists and their teams need to properly care for their patients.

Mitigating the Risk of Dental Cybersecurity Attacks

The conversation around cyberattacks shouldn’t revolve around the disadvantages dental offices experience, however. Instead, it should focus on attack prevention. While no system will ever be fully secure, taking some basic precautions such as implementing office protocols and investing in security software will help protect your office and your patients.

When employees errantly mishandle employee documents, fail to follow desktop-locking policies, or open suspicious attachments without a second thought, they are putting the entire business at risk. Many cyberattacks operate by abusing human trust, such as by acting as individuals or software downloads promising to protect data in hopes of gaining access to your system. These sorts of threats make smart user behavior and baseline technical knowledge two of the most important employee traits a security-concerned dental office can cultivate.

Education and training on cybersecurity for healthcare should mirror the aptitudes and motivations of your team. Incentive-based programs in which employees are rewarded for displaying smart security behavior have shown promising results. Experts also recommend encouraging a culture of security, a task that can be as easy as forwarding relevant articles and generating discussion on security topics. Considering small practices’ increased risk and the recent uptick in cyberattacks, finding conversation material shouldn’t be difficult.

Other preventive efforts have more to do with the technical strength of security measures than they do with human error. Dental offices should implement a response plan that gives employees a formalized procedure to follow in the event of an attack. Organizations are also strongly encouraged to allocate a security budget, which should be used to purchase products and services such as annual security consulting or security software for cloud-based systems.

Off-site, un-networked backups are another strong form of defense against cybersecurity attacks. Although properly implementing and maintaining these backups may require hardware purchases and ongoing payments to a technical staff, they do protect your data when your on-site network is breached. Malware is always getting smarter, and the current trend is to seek out, capture, and withhold in-network backups; thus, the only truly safe data is that which must be physically accessed to restore.

To guarantee the security of your dental office, no matter your size or budget, ensuring that all software you use is up-to-date and any network issues are fixed is a must. A high percentage of breaches occur when attackers exploit an unpatched or outdated link in an otherwise secure digital network. This, in turn, often grants hackers access to other parts of the system, rendering useless other security measures.

Keeping Your Dental Office Safe From Attacks

The increase in cyberattacks seen this year helps illustrate technology’s role as a double-edged sword in healthcare. For dentists and other private-practice providers, staying secure while still using the technology needed to remain competitive requires a smart outlook, tech-savvy employees, and a willingness to spend.

After all, an industry that preaches brushing and flossing should understand the benefits of preventive care better than most — especially when the costs of failure are high!

Has your dental office suffered a breach? What measures have you put in place to keep your practice, records, and patients secure? Share your tips and stories with us on Twitter

Evan Wade
About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is a professional writer, journalist, and editor based in Indianapolis. He has extensive experience in news, feature, and copy writing in the healthcare field, with specialties in technology, human-interest stories, and addiction science. Contact him on Twitter: @wadefreelance.

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