8 ways hospitals can prevent a cyberattack 

December 15, 2022 Windstream Enterprise 5 min

Editor’s Note: Health records containing personal data make healthcare providers a prime target for cybercriminals, and breaches reached record highs last year, with nearly 50 million patient records affected. Many healthcare facilities now focus on prevention, and cyber security experts recommend engaging top management, empowering staff with cyber hygiene knowledge and eliminating siloed systems to encourage cooperation and prevent breaches. Security must be a priority from day one, with the segmentation of critical systems, employment of intrusion detection software and mandated use of multi-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized network access and safeguard data.  

Finally, all healthcare organizations must create cyber incident response plans, including data encryption and backup, vulnerability patch management, frequent plan testing and maintaining a relationship with law enforcement before an incident occurs. 

Today, healthcare organizations are undoubtedly prime targets for cybercrime—and the stakes couldn’t be higher with patient trust, safety and well-being hanging in the balance. 


As a high-cost sector for data breaches, healthcare systems are hyper-focused on preventing cyberattacks that target not only patient health records and financial data but also organizations’ IP related to medical research and innovation. 

Health data breaches reached a record high last year, affecting nearly 50 million patient records, and a recent attack on one of the country’s largest hospital systems, CommonSpirit Health, makes clear that providers remain a top target of cyber criminals.  

Cyber thieves are lured by the large volumes of data found in healthcare systems. Often stored along with patients’ health information are credit card, bank account and Social Security numbers, as well as intellectual property related to medical research and innovation.   

Valuable stolen health records have consistently made the industry the highest-cost sector for data breaches, ahead of financial organizations and pharmaceuticals.  

“Hospitals are now laser-focused on preparing for these disruptive ransomware attacks,” said John Riggi, an FBI veteran and senior adviser for cybersecurity and risk at the American Hospital Association.  

For health systems and medical groups stepping up their defenses against an attack, here are top recommendations from cybersecurity experts for how to protect your organization:  

Start at the top

Cybersecurity should be a top priority for an organization’s leadership and board, who must understand that the threat is an enterprise risk issue, according to Riggi. An attack brings financial, legal and regulatory risks and, most importantly, may threaten care delivery and patient safety. “If it’s not a priority for the boss, it is not a priority for the organization,” Riggi said.   

It’s important to understand that cybersecurity is an enterprise risk issue. 

Empower the staff  

All employees need to have a sense of urgency about the impact of cyber threats and practice good cyber hygiene, as they would medical hygiene, in order to protect patients, said Riggi. Leverage the culture of care that exists within healthcare, and empower staff to identify, report and stop attacks, he said. One of the main ways to do that is by not clicking on phishing emails. More than 90% of successful cyberattacks start with a phishing email, according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA.    

Eliminate organizational silos  

The more that teams within a hospital or system work closely together, the better they will be at finding areas that could be vulnerable to a cyberattack.  

“Siloed organizations end up becoming a breeding ground for risk,” said Brad Parks, chief product and marketing officer at Morpheus Data, a cloud management platform company. “Addressing cyberattacks has as much to do with people and processes as it does tools and technology.”  

Mandate multi-factor authentication  

The White House advises the nation’s critical infrastructure, including healthcare organizations, to require that system users provide more than one verification factor to gain access. In addition to a username and password, another piece of information might be a code sent to a user’s phone. From there, the AHA recommends forcing password changes periodically. Biometrics such as an eye scan or facial recognition are less common in healthcare but are starting to be used as well.  

Embed security everywhere    

Parks suggests software developers at healthcare systems build security and governance into processes across the organization from day one. Further, increasing automation can help eliminate risk because it reduces the chance of human error, he said.  

“The easiest problem to fix is the one you never had,” said Parks.  

Segment off systems     

Providers must make sure that critical medical devices are separated from the broader network by digital firewalls that can prevent the spread of ransomware or malware between systems, the experts said.  

“One of the most important controls in any clinical environment is you need to be segmenting off those devices from your administrative networks, where you would have the laptops, where you would have the iPads,” said Resilience Insurance Chief Risk Officer Richard Seiersen, a former general manager of cybersecurity and privacy for GE Healthcare.  

Implementing digital firewalls can prevent the spread of ransomware or malware between systems. 

Employ intrusion detection  

Riggi recommends the use of intrusion detection systems, which are highly sophisticated technical tools that can detect malware or software that is exhibiting anomalous or malicious behavior. Such tools can determine, for example, if a piece of software is communicating with an IP address that it should not be contacting or attempting to access a main directory to capture credentials.  

“It’s very important to have an added layer of malware detection that is based on the behavior of software,” Riggi said.  

 Back up, encrypt, patch, plan 

Organizations are advised to back up and encrypt data, employ patch management to ensure vulnerabilities are identified and addressed, frequently test cyber incident response plans, and integrate those plans into the overall emergency preparedness plan. Establishing relationships with the FBI and CISA before an event occurs is also encouraged.  

This article was written by Susan Kelly from Healthcare Dive and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com

It’s never been more critical for healthcare providers to take every precaution regarding system security, and choosing to partner with Windstream Enterprise for cloud-optimized Managed Network Security (MNS) and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) can give your team the needed edge from day one.

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Key Takeaway
Healthcare organizations are taking steps to protect themselves from data breaches with tools that include multi-factor authentication, embedded security, segmented systems, and intrusion detection.

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