Guest Post: Anne Genge, Certified Information Privacy & Cybersecurity Professional
Imagine starting the day at your dental practice with a hot cup of coffee, ready to see patients, when suddenly, your computer screen freezes. A ransomware message appears and demands payment to unlock your patient records.
Today, ransomware is the most common cyber-attack used by cyber criminals where your data is encrypted using nefarious software that easily finds its way into the practice via email. Once it gets installed on one computer, it spreads to the others in your network as well as your server blocking access to everything.
This nightmare scenario is becoming increasingly common in healthcare. It complicates things since, these days, almost every patient management and diagnostic tool is digitized, connected, and often required for critical patient care.
Why is Dentistry an Easy Target?
Cybercriminals target healthcare practices, including dental practices, with ransomware attacks for several key reasons.
- Valuable Data: Dental practices store sensitive patient information, including personal, financial, and medical records. This data is highly valuable on the dark web (digital black market), making it a lucrative target for cybercriminals.
- Urgency and Dependence on Data: Dental providers rely heavily on access to patient data for daily operations. The urgency and critical nature of this data make dental and other healthcare practices more likely to pay ransoms to regain access quickly, as any delay can have severe consequences for patient care.
- Lack of Robust Cybersecurity: Many dental practices lack robust cybersecurity measures. This could be due to budget constraints, lack of awareness, or the complexity of securing increasingly digital and connected healthcare environments. This makes them more vulnerable to cyber-attacks compared to other industries that might have more advanced security protocols.
- Lack of Cybersecurity Awareness Training: Healthcare practices, including dental offices, often lack comprehensive cybersecurity awareness training for their staff. Employees may not be fully aware of the various forms of cyber threats, such as phishing emails, weak password management, and unsafe browsing practices. This can lead to unintentional breaches of security protocols, leaving the practice vulnerable to ransomware attacks. Cybercriminals exploit these vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to the network.
The Rising Tide of Cybersecurity Threats
Data breaches are surging, impacting millions globally. In dental practices, where patient trust is crucial, a single cybersecurity incident can devastate your business. Cybersecurity is no longer just an IT issue; it’s as vital as CPR for the digital heart of your practice.
Cybersecurity in Daily Operations
Every email, patient record, and data transfer in your practice carries potential risks. Simple habits like creating strong passwords, recognizing phishing emails, and securing personal devices can significantly reduce digital infection risks, much like handwashing prevents physical infections.
The Critical Healthcare Connection
For healthcare providers, a data breach can lead to compromised patient information, operational disruptions, and damaged reputations. Given healthcare is a prime target for cybercriminals, dental practices must be as vigilant against digital threats as they are against dental disease.
Basic Cybersecurity Training: A Significant Defense
Cybersecurity might seem daunting with its technical jargon, but it’s manageable with plain language and a supportive environment. Dental-specific cybersecurity awareness training is the best way to ensure your team understands the different types of cyber threats they will encounter in their workday and how to avoid them in your practice.
Fostering a Cybersecurity Culture
Cybersecurity is a collective effort. It requires a culture where every team member, from the administrative staff to the clinical staff, understands their role in safeguarding patient and practice data. Regular training, briefings during staff meetings, updating policies, and communicating clearly are key to building this defense.
Practical Cybersecurity Measures
To enhance your cybersecurity, consider these steps:
- Have your team complete cybersecurity awareness training, annually.
- Obtain a professional security risk assessment to find the gaps in your network.
- Implement strong password policies and multi-factor authentication.
- Back up patient data securely and regularly test these backups.
- Consider a managed cybersecurity provider to supplement your IT.
Adapting to Evolving Cyber Threats
Cyber threats are constantly evolving, and so should your defenses. Stay updated on cybersecurity trends, participate in webinars, and refresh your training regularly. Cybersecurity is an ongoing journey, not a one-time task. There are free resources available specifically for dental practices.
The Role of Specialized IT Support
Just as dentistry has specialists like endodontists and periodontists, cybersecurity needs specialized IT expertise. General IT providers may not have the nuanced understanding required for the unique challenges in dental practices, such as protecting sensitive patient data and complying with healthcare regulations. Specialized dental cybersecurity professionals, with their focused training in breach and threat prevention, are better equipped to handle these specific needs.
Security Risk Assessments: The New Patient Exam Analogy
Think of a security risk assessment as a new patient exam for your practice’s digital health. This assessment, much like a comprehensive dental check-up, evaluates your IT environment to identify vulnerabilities in software, hardware, and user practices. It’s a diagnostic tool that helps formulate a strategy to mitigate risks and strengthen your digital defenses.
The Impact of Basic Security Awareness
Even basic security awareness among your team can significantly enhance the security of patient data. Training to recognize cyber threats and adopt safe digital practices is akin to teaching good oral hygiene to patients. It’s a fundamental aspect of overall care.
The Go-Forward Plan
In the realm of dental healthcare, the integrity of your cybersecurity measures is as vital as the quality of the dental services you provide. Education is key in cyberspace, and prevention is always preferable to remediation. By securing your practice, educating your team, and seeking specialized cybersecurity support, you can effectively combat digital threats.
Cybersecurity is challenging, but with a united effort, it’s a battle that can be won, one click at a time. Remember, you’re not alone in this; together, we can safeguard practices and patients’ data against the rising tide of cybercrime.
Together, we can make dentistry safer online.
About the Author
Anne is the founder of Myla Training Co., Canada’s first-ever online privacy and cybersecurity training platform for dental professionals. With over two decades of experience, Anne has become a leading expert and trainer in this field. Anne collaborates closely with practice owners, managers, dental teams, and IT providers to ensure the safety of patients and practice data while enabling compliance with privacy regulations. Anne can be reached at [email protected] or call 877-363-9229 x702.