Digital Safety Rx: Best Practices for Healthcare Cybersecurity in 2024

Cybersecurity refers to the implementation of diverse protocols to protect systems, networks, and data from unauthorized or illicit exploitation.1 It’s a top concern for all types of industries in the digital age — especially as technology advances and our reliance on it deepens.

In healthcare, cybersecurity concerns have extensively evolved over the years. Patient records, diagnoses, and treatment plans are no longer confined to paper charts and tucked away in dusty filing cabinets. They’re now smoothly integrated into digital systems, accessible at all times from pretty much anywhere at the click of a button. But just like any reputable healthcare professional wouldn’t leave a patient’s file open on the desk for everyone to see, we shouldn’t leave these digital records at risk of being compromised online.

Medical data protection isn’t just about installing antivirus software and hoping for the best. It’s an ongoing effort that requires vigilance, awareness, and expert guidance. With that in mind, partnering with a reliable IT Managed Service Provider (MSP) is a key step in effectively integrating and enforcing best practices for healthcare cybersecurity. These professionals specialize in managing and securing IT infrastructure, offering invaluable insights for promptly identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities.

Protecting Patient Data: Cybersecurity in Healthcare

Cybersecurity sounds daunting and technical. Why should healthcare professionals even worry about it? That’s a fair question, considering the more immediate demands of patient care and the fast-paced nature of a practitioner’s day-to-day. 

However, the importance of cybersecurity in the healthcare industry lies far beyond the technical aspects. It also has a major impact on preserving the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of patient information — which is the very core of quality healthcare delivery.

The Value of Medical Data

A 2022 white paper from the U.S. Senate revealed a startling fact: personal medical data is more valuable on the black market than financial information.2 Hackers can fetch anywhere between $10 and $1,000 per stolen medical record, according to the report.2 Let’s keep in mind that medical documentation often contains a wealth of sensitive data. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Social Security numbers and addresses
  • Diagnoses and treatment histories
  • Medication lists and allergies
  • Genetic information

In the wrong hands, these details can fuel a range of shady activities. They can help bad actors commit medical identity theft, insurance fraud, blackmail, and targeted medical attacks. These potential risks highlight the critical need for robust healthcare cybersecurity measures.

The Growing Relevance of Cybersecurity in Healthcare

Up to 87% of patients worry about hackers swiping their personal information from medical records, and roughly 73% feel uncomfortable about healthcare employees gaining access to their data.3 This concern makes sense, considering internal actors (who are often trusted and privileged employees) are responsible for 19% of data breaches, whether intentionally or by accident.

Adhering to the best practices for healthcare cybersecurity, especially with the help of an IT MSP, allows office managers, operations directors, and physicians to build trust among patients and offer the highest quality of care. Besides, prioritizing patient data security measures empowers these medical professionals to create a safe environment where patients feel confident sharing accurate information. 

Some other perks of keeping patient data safe are: 

Improved care continuity: Seamless care, especially for patients with chronic conditions, relies on uninterrupted access to past diagnoses, medications, and treatment plans. Robust cybersecurity lets healthcare providers coordinate care effectively across specialties and institutions.

Added medical research and innovation support: The advancement of medical treatments hinges on the secure and responsible sharing of patient information for research purposes. Strong cybersecurity facilitates accountable and ethical data usage to drive medical breakthroughs.

Most Common Types of Cyberattacks in Healthcare

Malicious actors, both external and internal, have been exploiting technical vulnerabilities in the medical field for decades. However, the speed at which technology has evolved has allowed them to develop more intricate techniques to compromise security in recent years. Researchers at Comparitech found evidence of at least 5,478 medical breaches in the U.S. between 2009 and 2023, with attacks reaching a peak in 2020.5 Here are the most prevalent types affecting medical organizations.


Attackers sometimes encrypt an organization’s data and then demand payment for decrypting it or refraining from publishing it. Over the past three years, there has been a considerable surge in ransomware attacks.4 Research shows that healthcare ransomware attacks decrease hospital volume by up to 25% during the first week, jeopardizing patient care and significantly reducing revenue.6


Phishing attacks account for 45% of cybersecurity incidents in healthcare and seek to trick employees or patients into clicking on malicious links, downloading malware, or opening infected attachments.7 They’re often disguised as legitimate emails from healthcare providers or government agencies. Many healthcare providers simulate phishing attacks to test and train their staff, yet a study revealed employees take the bait at least one out of seven times.8

Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks

DoS attacks attempt to overwhelm a healthcare organization’s systems with traffic, making them unavailable to legitimate users. DoS attacks can disrupt patient care, delay appointments, and damage the organization’s reputation.

Social engineering

Social engineering is a method used to trick individuals through psychological ploys to gain access to sensitive information or systems. Healthcare workers are often under pressure and time constraints, making them more susceptible to this type of manipulation. Phishing emails often use social engineering to trick the recipient into performing a certain task or handing over information by impersonating someone in a position of authority.


Hacktivism is inspired by ideological motives or a desire for social change. Most hacktivists target healthcare to raise awareness about certain issues or disrupt operations they deem unethical. While their attacks may not be as technically advanced as those of more seasoned cybercriminals and nation-state actors, they can still cause significant damage to healthcare systems and public trust.

The Evolution of Healthcare Cybersecurity Over the Years

Cybersecurity in healthcare mirrors technological transformations and the growing sensitivity of medical data. As medical information becomes increasingly digital, traditional security measures must adapt to better serve their purpose. Cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated, using state-of-the-art techniques and taking advantage of emerging advances, such as: 

  • Telehealth and remote care: These revolutionary medical services have reached an 80% adoption rate.9 Still, increased reliance on these technologies creates new entry points for attackers and expands the attack surface.
  • Internet of Medical Things (IoMT): Studies indicate that the adoption of IoMT technologies is still pretty low.10 However, the global IoMT market is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. It’s important to note that vulnerabilities in internet-reliant medical devices pose new risks, potentially impacting patient safety and privacy.
  • Cloud adoption: More and more practices are ditching physical files and embracing a digital transition. Data suggests that over 73% of medical organizations claim to use multiple public cloud vendors.11 While offering scalability, cloud-based healthcare systems introduce new security challenges related to data storage and access.

Technology is not the only aspect to factor in when talking about the ongoing evolution of cyber threats. The motivations behind security incidents have shifted through time, too. 

While financial motives remain prevalent, attackers are increasingly inclined toward causing disruption, engaging in espionage, and, in some cases, pursuing political objectives. Cyberattacks on healthcare can be used as weapons in geopolitical conflicts, further increasing risks and complexity.

Cybersecurity Risks in Healthcare: A Quick Timeline

Here are some key moments in cybersecurity risks:

  • 1989: The “PC Cyborg” AIDS Trojan, a floppy disk distributed at a WHO conference, marks the first instance of ransomware.12
  • 1996: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) lays the foundation for protecting patient privacy.13
  • 2005: HIPAA updates regulations to include encryption and other safeguards.14
  • 2009: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expands HIPAA and incentivizes healthcare providers to adopt secure electronic health records (EHRs).14
  • 2013-2014: Major attacks impact Anthem (80 million records) and Community Health Systems (4.5 million records).15,16
  • 2017: The NotPetya Outbreak cripples healthcare organizations and several other institutions across industries worldwide.17
  • 2020: COVID-19 accelerates telehealth adoption, inadvertently creating new attack vectors targeting virtual platforms and remote workers.18
  • 2021: At least 686 healthcare data breaches expose up to 44,993,618 healthcare records.19
  • 2023: Healthcare data leaks affect upward of 116 million individuals, hitting a record high.20

While healthcare’s journey with cyber threats is far from over, these incidents attest to the industry’s resilience. Relentless adaptation and collaboration can help us forge a future where patient data is secure and whole for organizations of all sizes.

Healthcare and Cybersecurity: Navigating the Digital Landscape

Preventing data breaches in medical practices is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Both large healthcare network organizations and smaller private practices face their own cybersecurity struggles, but these can differ greatly, both in scope and severity.

Cybersecurity Threats and Large Networks

Large networks tend to be prime targets for sophisticated cybercriminals and state-sponsored attackers due to the potential for high-profile data breaches and extortion opportunities. They also have a vast attack surface due to numerous connected devices, software systems, and databases containing sensitive patient details — which increases the chances of entry points for attackers.

However, these organizations are capable of dedicating significant resources to cybersecurity by deploying advanced security tools, hiring dedicated security personnel, and conducting regular training for staff. Effectively managing such a complex environment can be challenging, nonetheless. After all, balancing security protocols with operational efficiency and data accessibility requires constant vigilance and proactive risk mitigation strategies.

Cybersecurity Threats and Small Practices

Small practices constitute the overwhelming majority of healthcare entities in the U.S., with 64% of physicians working in offices employing fewer than 25 doctors.21 Compared to sprawling networks, these practices are often less attractive targets for large-scale cyberattacks. Still, they are not immune to threats, and their perceived vulnerability can make them appealing to opportunistic hackers.

Insider threats and accidental data breaches due to human error tend to be more prominent in these smaller settings. Limited staff training and awareness programs can leave practices vulnerable to phishing attacks, social engineering scams, or employee negligence.

Lastly, budget and staffing limitations often prevent private practices from implementing robust cybersecurity measures. Yet, ​​prioritizing cost-effective solutions like employee training, multi-factor authentication, and data encryption can significantly enhance their cyber defense posture.

Securing the Healthcare Sector: A Deep Dive Into Cybersecurity

Understanding cyber risks in healthcare is a no-brainer. It gives us the tools to defend our patient’s sensitive information from the most common threats. Staying adequately equipped to deal with cybersecurity hazards is an excellent way to future-proof a medical practice. 

In addition to staying in the loop about the latest news on cyberattacks, healthcare professionals must also understand how to implement a proper data safety strategy and stay informed of any laws regarding cybersecurity. These actions help guarantee compliance and reinforce the reputation of healthcare organizations.

Healthcare Data Breaches: The Role of Cybersecurity

As mentioned above, robust online safety measures are essential for protecting patient data from unauthorized access, theft, or manipulation. HIPAA compliance plays a crucial role in keeping healthcare-related data safe. In short, these are the main commitments to safeguard healthcare information in this lawful framework:22

  • Privacy Rule: Requires covered entities (healthcare providers, health plans, and clearinghouses) to implement reasonable and appropriate safeguards to defend protected healthcare information (PHI) from unauthorized access, disclosure, or misuse
  • Security Rule: Specifies the technical and organizational safeguards that covered entities must implement to protect electronic PHI (ePHI), including access controls, encryption, and audit trails
  • Breach Notification Rule: Requires covered entities to notify patients and the Department of Health and Human Services if a data breach occurs
  • Omnibus Rule: Prohibits the use of ePHI for marketing purposes
  • Enforcement Rule: Defines how any resulting investigations from data breaches should be conducted

HIPAA’s framework, while comprehensive, presents both strengths and limitations. Its strict regulations offer valuable protection, but gaps remain in areas like emerging technologies and international data sharing. Of course, HIPAA strives to keep its statutes adaptive and effective. However, continuously monitoring the evolution of the law to remain up to date with new developments that could affect data safety is the responsibility of healthcare organizations.

Cyber Threats in Healthcare: How To Secure Patient Information

Implementing cybersecurity measures in healthcare may seem a tad challenging. However, there are several steps all parties involved can take to make the task much easier, such as: 

  • Mapping out all devices, software, and applications storing or processing patient data to identify critical systems and potential vulnerabilities
  • Categorizing data based on sensitivity and prioritizing protection efforts
  • Implementing multi-factor authentication for systems containing sensitive data
  • Enforcing least-privilege access, granting only necessary permissions
  • Encrypting data, both at rest and in transit, to render it unusable if accessed by unauthorized parties
  • Utilizing firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems (IDS/IPS), and endpoint protection software to monitor and block threats
  • Maintaining all systems and software with the latest security patches to address known vulnerabilities
  • Keeping a close eye on system logs for suspicious activity, including failed login attempts and unauthorized data access
  • Setting up a detailed plan outlining steps to take in case of a cyberattack, including containment, investigation, notification, and recovery
  • Constantly backing up data and maintaining a secure off-site copy in case of system outages or attacks
  • Regularly testing incident response plans and conducting drills to ensure everyone is prepared

The Future of Cybersecurity in Healthcare

Cyber threats emerge by the minute, but luckily, healthcare IT security is here to stay. The future promises stronger protection for sensitive data, improved patient trust, and more resilient healthcare systems for practices of all sizes. Hiring an IT MSP, however, is a proven recipe for success, helping organizations stay:

  • Data-driven and proactive: Real-time threat monitoring and customized data analysis enable risk anticipation.
  • Patient-centric and transparent: Strong security builds trust. IT MSPs help craft clear communication protocols and robust breach response plans, keeping patients informed and in control.
  • Device-focused and interconnected: MSPs manage device security seamlessly, shielding entire ecosystems for added protection.
  • Collaborative and adaptive: MSPs foster partnerships with security vendors, industry experts, and even a practice’s own staff.

Moving Forward in Your Cybersecurity Journey

The consequences of a cyberattack in healthcare can be devastating, but navigating this terrain with fear won’t take us anywhere. The best course of action is to stay informed and prepared to act swiftly should the occasion arise. At Qventive Healthcare, we’ve assisted numerous companies in taking proactive steps to reduce vulnerabilities and meet compliance standards. Let us help you navigate the best practices for healthcare cybersecurity! Contact us today to fortify your defenses against potential cyber threats!

This guide will arm you with the information needed for your practice to thrive in our interconnected world. Want more content like this in your inbox? Subscribe to gain ongoing insights on all things cybersecurity and IT.