Information Security
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Data Protection for Health and Social Care: The Key Challenges

Technology makes health and social care easier for everyone involved. Care centres and other organisations can monitor, record, analyse, share, and action findings quickly from anywhere in the world. 

As a result, collecting personal data has become commonplace, with 80% of health, social work and social care organisations holding personal data, according to a government report

The relative sensitivity of health and social care data isn’t a new concept. Confidentiality has long been a priority of health care organisations due to the personal nature of the information given. However, the availability of these new data points opens organisations up to new types of risk. And many organisations are yet to modernise their healthcare cybersecurity training to account for the threats of the digital world.

The same government report found that only 53% have insurance against cyberattacks. And a mere 19% adhere to ISO 27001, a certification that measures an organisation’s risk-based approach to security.

If you work in the Health and social care sector, apart from working with healthcare cyber security companies, there are multiple ways you can protect your organisation. And by doing so, you’ll also stand out to patients by demonstrating your commitment to their security.

Let’s start with the potential risks in the Health and social care sector when it comes to cybersecurity, and then we’ll share how you can protect against them.

Risks to patients and clients of Health and Social Care sector organisations

Individual patient safety

One of the well-known challenges in the health and social care sector is the vulnerability of patients and clients. Organisations do their best to protect these individuals as their data is valuable to hackers and criminals looking for individuals that are easy to defraud. However, while this used to be a localised threat, fraudsters and malicious individuals can now attempt to obtain individuals’ records from anywhere in the world without leaving a trace.

Point-of-capture vulnerabilities

New risks are evolving as organisations introduce ‘IoT’ patient monitoring. IoT refers to the Internet of Things, which uses sensors and multiple computers to collect, share, and analyse data from various locations, online or in real life.

In this new IoT setup, from smartwatches and apps to in-hospital physiological recording devices, there are more moving pieces of our security puzzle than ever before. And this leads to two key vulnerabilities. 

The first vulnerability is the pure number of ports and external databases involved, which provide more opportunities for hackers to access the network.

The second vulnerability refers to the gravity of the situation if a hacker does get through. While in most cases, a hacker will only be able to access records, if the hacker goes after an active sensor or medical device, they have the potential to control or disrupt medical equipment while it is actively in use.

Data connectivity threats

Finally, the health and social care industry has significantly advanced its connectivity, opening and storing data online to make it accessible to partners anywhere in the world. Again, this 24/7 sending and receiving of data creates more risks for the security of data in health and social care. Partly as there are more opportunities for hackers, but also as increased connectivity makes it easier for hackers to pose as a legitimate source requesting a data transfer.

How can you reduce the cyber security risk in the Health and Social Care sector?

Here are some security best practice techniques all health and social care organisations should follow.

Data storage & encryption

Any data you record and store should follow a strict set of guidelines designed for your unique organisation. These guidelines should include the type and amount of data recorded, how long it is kept, how it is secured, and any encryption and additional security measures that must be in place.

Cyber security software

Hackers need to find a way into your organisation. They will often achieve this using malicious malware such as a virus or ransomware. By installing, and just as critically, maintaining anti-malware and other security software, you will protect yourself from the most common forms of attacks.

Staff cyber security training

As we mentioned, hackers need a way into your organisation. And fortunately for the hackers, humans are usually their easiest target. Train your staff to spot phishing attacks and create secure passwords to avoid additional breaches.

Bonus tip: The Data Security and Protection Toolkit

To kick-start your cyber security overall, it’s best to do a heuristic analysis of your entire digital infrastructure and security setup. The easiest way to approach this is to complete a self-analysis using The Data Security and Protection Toolkit

The toolkit is compulsory for any organisation that holds NHS patient data and is recommended by the Local Government Association for all health and social care organisations. The toolkit contains a series of self-assessment guidelines you can use to assess and improve your security across three categories; People, process, and technology.

Under ‘people’ the DSPT requires organisations to provide compulsory security training. As part of the training, staff should understand their responsibility under the National Data Guardian’s Data Security Standards and ensure confidentiality.

Under the second category, ‘process’, organisations must restrict database access to those who need it to complete their job. Organisations should also regularly revenue their processes, take action against potential cyber-attacks, and continually test their existing defences.

Finally, organisations must ensure their entire digital estate only uses regulated and approved software to meet the ‘technology’ category guidelines. IT personnel must also ensure a protective system is in place and all partners and suppliers are held responsible for the security of the data they transfer or possess.

If you need peace of mind when completing your DSPT, or specialists to create a leading security strategy to protect your health and social organisation and patients, talk to our team.