How to effectively protect your practice from cyber security threats

December 28, 2023

How to effectively protect your practice from cyber security threats

December 28, 2023

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Understanding key cyber security risk and how to mitigate them for independent doctors and dentists.


MNP’s Cyber Security Leader for Eastern Canada, Eugene oversees research and development activities and formulates long-term vision and strategies at the executive management level to help the firm better serve clients. He provides a full range of cyber security services and solutions to medium-sized and large enterprises, delivering strong advice to help clients make business decisions relating to technology.

Doctors and dentists who own their own practices face unique cyber security risks, now more than ever. With significant amounts of sensitive patient data stored on digital platforms, it can be easy for hackers to access your practice’s information without proper protections in place.

Cyber security risks are changing constantly – both in types of risk and in severity of outcomes – so when thinking about cyber security, a shift in perspective may be helpful to illustrate how essential healthy digital strategies are to the safety of your practice.

Consider how often you check in on your financial health. If not daily, certainly weekly you and your accountant are assessing accounts receivables, payroll, and expenses. If an issue crops up, you can see it in almost real time and act quickly to mitigate the impact or course correct.

Now, consider what it would look like to apply same type of rigor and visibility to your cyber security. The fundamental operations of your practice are almost completely digital. Without a well-functioning computer system, you’d likely completely shut down. So why don’t most business owners spend as much time or energy on cyber security as they should?

If can be difficult to constantly assess your practice’s cyber security needs when you’re busy running the business but getting external help can ease that burden and prevent small threats from becoming catastrophic events.

Key cyber security risks to watch for

Preventing a significant cyber security attack means being aware of and prepared for what kinds of risks exist.

Here are a few key risks specific to healthcare professionals who run their own practices:

1. Patient data breaches

Medical practices store large amounts of sensitive patient information, including personal and financial data. Cybercriminals may attempt to breach the practice’s systems to steal this data, which can be used for identity theft, financial fraud, or other malicious activities. Patient data breaches can lead to significant legal and financial consequences for the practice.

2. Ransomware attacks

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files or locks them out of their systems, demanding a ransom payment in exchange for restoring access. Medical practices are attractive targets for ransomware attacks because they often rely heavily on electronic health records (EHRs) and may be more willing to pay to regain access to critical patient data.

3. Insider threats

Employees within the practice, including disgruntled staff members or those who may accidentally mishandle sensitive data, can pose a significant cyber security risk. Unauthorized access, data theft, or accidental data breaches can all result from insider threats. It is crucial for medical practices to implement appropriate access controls and monitoring systems to mitigate these risks.

4. Phishing attacks

Phishing is a common cyber attack method where attackers send deceptive emails or messages to trick recipients into revealing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links. Doctors and dentists are often targeted through phishing emails disguised as urgent patient requests or official communications from healthcare organizations. Falling victim to phishing attacks can compromise sensitive practice data or lead to further network intrusions.

5. Inadequate infrastructure and security practices

Small medical practices may lack the resources or expertise to implement robust cyber security measures. Outdated software, weak passwords, unpatched systems, and lack of employee training can all contribute to vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals.

6. Medical device vulnerabilities

With the increasing integration of connected medical devices and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, such as remote monitoring devices and implantable medical devices, there is a growing concern about their security vulnerabilities. Compromised medical devices can lead to patient safety risks, data breaches, or unauthorized access to the practice’s network.

Do you understand your cyber security risks?

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Mitigating your practice’s risk

There are a few ways you can prepare yourself for cyber security threats, both ahead of an attack and in the immediate aftermath of one. It’s likely you’ll experience, or have experienced, a cyber security attack and knowing how to best approach the situation to mitigate risk is invaluable.

Here are a few ways to mitigate that risk:

1. Beware of complacency

Organizations, like people, are prone to follow the path of least resistance. Practice owns will often invest heavily in fortifying their cyber defenses only to set the issue aside after they’ve received a clean bill of health and won’t revisit the issue until they’ve experienced an attack or a near miss. Consider a cyber security and privacy assessment at least annually to help illustrate if there’s any need for extra protections or changes to your policies.

2. Employee training

Ongoing training for all employees of cyber security best practices – such as how to recognize and avoid phishing attempts, setting strong passwords, and awareness of your practice’s response plan in the event of an attack – ensures everyone is on the same page and understands the importance of working together towards cyber safety. The overwhelming majority of attacks boil down to human error so setting clear guidelines for everyone from the receptionist to the owner keeps the policies and their importance a top-of-mind consideration.

3. Regular updates and patches

It may sound simple but keeping your software systems up to date and patched as needed – including operating systems and medical device software – addresses existing and can prevent future vulnerabilities. It’s also key to back up your critical data regularly and test the restoration process to ensure business continuity in case of a cyber attack of data loss incident.

4. Plan for the worst-case scenario

While there are no guarantees, technology, strong policies, and training can significantly reduce the likelihood of a breach. But human error, software vulnerability, or a persistent hacker can all reveal cracks in even the very best cyber defenses. An effective cyber incident response plan will provide clear instructions about how to report a breach, when to call a third-party advisor, when to call legal counsel, how to document and report details, and how to communicate with employees and affected parties. It is up to practice owners to set the tone for how to mitigate and manage cyber risks and be willing to accept that the worst-case scenario is a possibility that must be planned for.

Get the help you need when you need it

It can seem like a daunting task to prepare for something you have no way of knowing how or when it might happen.

Think about your practice’s cyber security needs the same way you think about recommending regular check ups to patients. It’s part of an overall approach to prevention that ensures measures can be taken as early as possible if needed to prevent negative outcomes. It doesn’t mean that your patients won’t get sick, but it can prevent them from getting sicker. As their healthcare provider, you know their history and can use that information to provide better care.

The same is true of a dedicated third-party who come in to help you plan for and respond in the event of a cyber attack. MNP’s dedicated team of advisors can help you find what your digital needs are, how to understand your current operation, and recommend any adjustments or improvement. Having a third-party who knows your business and its history is vital to alerting you when something needs attention and MNP’s team is available 24/7 to assist in whatever way they can.

Your trusted advisor will support you with ongoing monitoring and management to provide the visibility that will prevent cyber threats from reaching catastrophic levels and informing you of the health of your digital business on a regular basis.

Connect with us to get started

Our team of dedicated professionals can help you determine which options are best for you and how adopting these kinds of solutions could transform the way your organization works. For more information, and for extra support along the way, contact our team.