Protect patients’ data in healthcare using multi-factor authentication

Protect Patients’ Data in Healthcare Using Multi-factor Authentication

Technology has transformed healthcare but this digital innovation also has one notable downside: cyber threats. And the price of stolen data shows just how much patient information is worth.

As reported by credit rating agency Experian, hackers stand to make substantial sums from selling data on the dark web. In fact, stolen medical records can sell for as much as $1,000 each, making them an attractive target for cybercriminals.

With thousands of sophisticated attacks happening every day, it’s never been more important to invest in multi-factor authentication in healthcare. Here we consider the ways multi-factor authentication can protect patients’ and hospitals’ sensitive medical data, both by securing access and helping healthcare organizations to comply with associated data protection regulations.

How does 2FA protect access to sensitive medical data in the healthcare industry?

The majority of cyber attacks begin with a bad actor successfully logging into an organization’s network. Many of these breaches are due to human error — the Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report shows that over 70% of attacks began with stolen, weak, or phished credentials. This is where two-factor authentication (2FA) can help.

2FA provides an additional layer of security beyond their username and password (the first factor) by requiring users to provide an additional factor to verify their identity (such as a token, push notification or authenticator application) and gain access to sensitive data. And in the event of a cyber attack, 2FA helps to stop the logon and deny access to bad actors. After all, if cyber criminals can’t log on then they can’t gain access to systems and steal data.

Here’s a few security advantages to using multi-factor authentication in healthcare:

  • It offers automated controls that actually stop the attack, not just send an alert on the threat, and blocks access before any damage is done.
  • It protects all employee access, not just the privileged admins, enhancing the organization’s security.
  • It’s adopted easily by end users — especially when granular and together with other access controls — and requires almost no training.
  • It supports a Zero Trust security framework, which focuses on identity authentication for both internal and external users as the cornerstone of modern cybersecurity.

Why is 2FA important in healthcare?

As mentioned above, stolen medical records are a multi-billion dollar industry on the dark web, which makes them an extremely attractive target to cybercriminals.

According to research published in the HIPAA Journal, these breaches have become more common in recent years. In fact, the records of more than 6.9 million people — a figure that’s ‘well above’ the monthly average of 3.99 million — were stolen in November 2022, with the majority accessed via compromised emails and networks.

With so much data available, these high-risk attacks can carry high costs for the healthcare organizations involved. As the 2022 Cost of Data Breach Report from IBM shows, each breached healthcare record costs organizations an average of $250 per record, a figure that’s 80% higher than the global average cost of a data breach. It can also take the healthcare industry longer to detect and respond to a breach — the same report found that it takes an average of 236 days for a breach to be detected.

Healthcare is a highly-regulated industry and strict compliance regulations govern requirements around protecting access to sensitive health information. In order to comply with healthcare cybersecurity laws, access to data must be restricted on a ‘needs to know’ basis. Getting this right is not only crucial for compliance, but also for the care of the patient and the protection of their personal data.

Additionally, using multi-factor authentication in healthcare can help U.S.-based organizations ensure compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

How 2FA can help your organization meet healthcare compliance and data protection regulations

From the HIPAA Security Rule to HIPAA Technical Safeguards, it can be a challenge to meet strict regulatory requirements around access. While HIPAA does not explicitly require the use of multi-factor authentication in healthcare, it is advised and 2FA is an important step towards meeting the industry’s cybersecurity laws.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) advised the use of 2FA as far back as 2006, when it published the HIPAA Security Guidance. This document recommended 2FA (alongside a technical process) as a possible risk management strategy for information stolen via unauthorized or improper access.

Moreover, this still rings true today. As we fast forward to 2023, 2FA has again been championed as “one of the best methods of protecting ePHI [Electronic protected health information] against phishing attacks” in a recent post by HIPAA Journal.

However, while the HIPAA Security Rule requires compliance with all Technical Safeguards, it also allows healthcare organizations the flexibility to determine which technical security measures to implement. In other words, the Technical Safeguards aren’t the measures an organization implements, they’re the standards it must prove that it meets.

So whether it’s access control to person or entity authentication, multi-factor authentication plays a crucial role in meeting and maintaining compliance. It demonstrates that an organization is actively taking steps to comply with HIPAA requirements and protect patient data at every level. Additionally, 2FA helps to ensure that only authorized individuals gain access to medical records, sensitive personal details, and individually identifiable health information.

Choose UserLock 2FA for cyber security in healthcare

Credential compromise is becoming increasingly frequent and healthcare organizations must take steps to improve their data security. This is where UserLock, our innovative and effective multi-factor authentication and access management software solution, can help.

UserLock offers customized, granular 2FA that’s been designed to safeguard Active Directory user access to healthcare organization networks, including on-premises and hybrid environments. This means that your Active Directory identity access is secure, whether for your on-site administrators and consultants, through to remote health workers and nurses. For U.S. based organizations, UserLock can help your organization meet HIPAA compliance requirements by securing access and protecting patient data. In addition, you’ll have real-time monitoring and access alerts to help detection and response times.

Request a demo today or download a free trial to see for yourself what UserLock can do for your healthcare organization, from protecting your sensitive medical data, to helping prove your healthcare compliance and much more.

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Chris Bunn is the Directeur Général Adjoint of IS Decisions, a global cybersecurity software company, specializing in access management and multi-factor authentication for Microsoft Active Directory environments and the cloud.

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