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Patients Unaware of the Extent of Healthcare Cyberattacks and Data Theft

A recent survey conducted by the unified asset visibility and security platform provider Armis has explored the state of cybersecurity in healthcare and the security risks that are now faced by healthcare organizations.

The survey was conducted by Censuswide on 400 IT professionals at healthcare organizations across the United States, and 2,000 U.S. patients to obtain their views on cybersecurity and data breaches in healthcare.

The survey confirmed cyber risk is increasing, with 85% of respondents saying cyber risk has increased over the past 12 months. Ransomware gangs have targeted the healthcare industry over the past 12 months, and many of those attacks have succeeded. 58% of the surveyed IT professionals said their organization had experienced a ransomware attack in the past 12 months.

Ransomware attacks were viewed as a cause of concern by 13% of IT security pros, indicating most are confident that they will be able to recover data in the event of an attack. However, data breaches that result in the loss of patient data were a major worry, with 52% of IT pros rating data loss as a top concern, with attacks on hospital operations rated as a major concern by 23% of healthcare IT pros.

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Defending against cyberattacks is becoming increasingly difficult due to the expanding attack surface. Armis says there are now 430 million connected healthcare devices worldwide, and that number is continuing to rise. When asked about the riskiest systems and devices, building systems such as HVAC were the biggest concern with 54% of IT professionals rating them as a major cybersecurity risk. Imaging machines were rated as among the riskiest by 43% of respondents, followed by medication dispensing equipment (40%), check-in kiosks (39%), and vital sign monitoring equipment (33%). While there is concern about the security of these systems and medical devices, 95% of IT professionals said they thought their connected devices and systems were patched and running the latest software.

The increase in cyberattacks on the healthcare sector is influencing healthcare decisions. 75% of IT professionals said recent attacks have had a strong influence on decision making and 86% of respondents said their organization had appointed a CISO; however, only 52% of respondents said their organization was allocating more than sufficient funds to cover IT security.

The survey of patients revealed a third had been the victim of a healthcare cyberattack, and while almost half of patients (49%) said they would change healthcare provider if it experienced a ransomware attack, many patients are unaware of the extent of recent cyberattacks and how frequently they are now being reported. In 2018, healthcare data breaches were reported at a rate of 1 per day. In the past year, there have been 7 months when data breaches have been reported at a rate of more than 2 per day.

Despite extensive media reports about healthcare data breaches and vulnerabilities in medical devices, 61% of potential patients said they had not heard about any healthcare cyberattacks in the past two years, clearly showing many patients are unaware of the risk of ransomware and other cyberattacks. However, patients are aware of the impact those attacks may have, with 73% of potential patients understanding a cyberattack could impact the quality of care they receive.

When potential patients were asked about their privacy concerns, 52% said they were worried a cyberattack would shut down hospital operations and would potentially affect patient care, and 37% said they were concerned about the privacy of information accessible through online portals.

There certainly appears to be trust issues, as only 23% of potential patients said they trusted their healthcare provider with their sensitive personal data. By comparison, 30% said they trusted their best friend with that information.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.