Cybersecurity Report Card:  Better Performance, But Not Great

Posted on March 29, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A new research report from HIMSS has concluded that while healthcare organizations are improving their cybersecurity programs, there’s still a number of things they could do better.

The study drew on responses from 239 health information security professionals. Their responses were gathered from December 2017 to January 2018. While respondents came from a number of settings, the largest number (31.5%) were with hospitals, multi-hospital systems or integrated delivery networks.

One key point made by the study was that significant security incidents are projected to continue to grow in number, complexity and impact. That’s reflected by responses from survey participants, 75.7% of whom said that their organizations experienced a significant security incident in the past 12 months.

The top threat actors attacking these organizations included online scam artists deploying phishing and spear phishing attacks (37.6%), followed by negligent insiders (20.8 %) or hackers (20.1%). In many cases, the initial point of security compromise was by email. Time it took to discover the incident included less than 24 hours (47.1%), one to two days (13.2%) and 3 to 7 days (7.4%).

Despite these risks, and the effort required to protect their data, healthcare organizations with cybersecurity programs are improving their performance. They’re devoting more resources to those programs (55.8% of current IT budgets), responding to problems identified by regular risk assessments (with 83.1% adopting new and improved security measures in the wake of those assessments) and regularly conducting penetration testing and security awareness training.

On the other hand, HIMSS found that most healthcare organizations, cybersecurity programs still need improvement. For example, staffers face major obstacles in remediating and mitigating security incidents, particularly having too few cybersecurity personnel on board and a lack of financial resources. HIMSS also noted that educating and testing “human components” for security vulnerabilities is critical, but may not be included in many efforts.

In some cases, organizations don’t have formal insider threat management programs. While many respondents (44.9%) said they do have insider threat management programs and policies in place, another 27% said those programs were informal. And 24.2% said their organization had no insider threat management program at all.

In addition, risk assessments vary widely across the industry. Popular sources used to gather cyber threat intelligence include US CERT alerts and bulletins (60%) and HIMSS resources (53.8%), but many others are used as well.

The net of all of this seems to be that while healthcare organizations have gotten smarter where cybersecurity is concerned, they need to invest more in specialized personnel, improve staff training, remediation and risk assessments and stay alert. As the number of attacks continues to grow, nothing else will get the job done.