IS Decisions logo

IS Decisions Blog

Protect patients’ data in healthcare using multi-factor authentication

Healthcare organizations must keep personal health information secure. Learn how multi-factor authentication (MFA) helps protect access to patient data.

Published March 6, 2023
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 two-factor authentication (2FA), also known as 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.

Why is 2FA important for healthcare organizations?

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.

Healthcare is a frequent target

According to research published in the HIPAA Journal, these breaches are now more common than ever. In fact, the records of more than 6.9 million people — a figure well above the monthly average of 3.99 million — were stolen in November 2022, with the majority accessed via compromised emails and networks.

The cost of a breach in healthcare is way above average

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. That’s 80% higher than the global average cost of a data breach.

Detecting a breach takes nearly 8 months

The healthcare industry also takes longer than most to detect and respond to a breach. The same report found that detecting a breach takes an average of 236 days.

Compliance standards have strict requirements around access

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

2FA protects access to sensitive patient data

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 2023 DBIR Healthcare Snapshot shows that 74% of all healthcare breaches include the human element, with people being involved either via Error, Privilege Misuse, Use of stolen credentials or Social Engineering. This is where two-factor authentication can help.

2FA provides an additional layer of security beyond their username and password (the first factor). Users must provide an additional factor to verify their identity (such as a token, push notification or authenticator application) to 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, nearly all attack patterns require a logon. If cyber criminals can’t log on, then they can’t gain access to systems, and they can't steal data.

There are several security advantages to using multi-factor authentication in healthcare. With MFA, you can:

  1. Stop the attack, not just send an alert on the threat, and block access before any damage is done.

  2. Protect all employee access, not just privileged admin accounts, a big boost to your organization's security.

  3. Ease adoption for end users, thanks to UserLock's granular application and contextual access controls.

  4. Support a Zero Trust security framework, which focuses on identity authentication of both internal and external users.

2FA supports healthcare compliance and data protection regulations

The HIPAA Security Rule and HIPAA Technical Safeguards don't explicitly require the use of multi-factor authentication in healthcare. However, MFA is an important step towards HIPAA compliance.

HIPAA does of course strictly require organizations to verify the identity of any person or entity before granting access to patient data. Since passwords are notoriously weak, MFA adds an additional layer of security to prevent unauthorized access to data.

What's more, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended 2FA as far back as 2006 with their HIPAA Security Guidance. This document recommends 2FA (alongside a technical process) to manage the risk of stolen data stemming from unauthorized or improper access.

HIPAA also recommends MFA to safeguard against phishing. A recent post by HIPAA Journal champions 2FA as, “one of the best methods of protecting ePHI [Electronic protected health information] against phishing attacks.”

So whether it’s access control or person and entity authentication, multi-factor authentication plays a crucial role in meeting and maintaining compliance. MFA demonstrates that your organization is actively taking steps to comply with HIPAA requirements and protect patient data at every level.

With 2FA, your organization can better ensure that only authorized individuals gain access to medical records, sensitive personal details, and individually identifiable health information.

How UserLock's 2FA helps protect patient data in healthcare

Rampant credential compromise over the past several years continues to push healthcare organizations to improve access security. This is where UserLock can help.

UserLock offers customized, granular 2FA designed to secure on-premise and hybrid Active Directory user access to healthcare organization networks. This means you can easily secure your Active Directory identities, whether they are on-site nurses and administrators or remote health workers and consultants.

For U.S. based organizations, UserLock supports HIPAA compliance requirements. With straightforward, effective MFA, USerLock secures AD identity access to better protect patient data. In addition, you can monitor access and get alerts in real-time to respond to threats before damage is done.

Try UserLock for free

3400+ organizations like yours choose UserLock to secure access for Active Directory identities and meet compliance requirements.

Download a free trial