The magazine > Cybersecurity in healthcare: when the virtual threat has an impact on real life

In 2022, 13% of cybersecurity incidents reported to the CERT Santé portal directly threatened the lives of patients*, revealing the inestimable value of healthcare data. A closer look at the consequences of cyber attacks in the healthcare sector.

The consequences of cyber attacks in the healthcare sector go far beyond the simple theft of data: they compromise patients' privacy by exposing their medical and personal information, but can also have an impact on their health.

Types of cyber attacks

The four most common types of attack include the use of malicious softwarethe phishingthe brute force attacks and DDoS attacks.

In the healthcare sector, the ransomware is particularly widespread. Cybercriminals use this form of attack to encrypt sensitive data in healthcare establishments and then demand a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. This method is particularly effective in the healthcare sector because of the confidentiality of the data and its vital importance to the operation of the establishments.

Cyber attacks in the healthcare sector: what are the consequences?

Violation of privacy and identity theft

The first consequence of a data leak is a breach of privacy. Hackers disclose confidential information that can later be used in hyper-personalised phishing attacks against patients and their families.

The theft of medical data can also lead to financial or medical fraud, plunging victims into complex financial and medical disputes. Criminals use stolen information to access healthcare services, obtain medicines or commit insurance fraud.

Consequences for health

Security incidents can lead to the permanent or temporary loss of data needed for healthcare organisations to function properly. Some medical equipment, such as scanners, may also be out of service.

This makes hospital management almost impossible. Files, references and the results of old examinations are now stored online. Medical equipment is also linked by a network. Without access to this information, it is sometimes necessary to close down a department or facility.

Operations are therefore postponed, which can be detrimental to patients. In the case of business continuity, medical errors and misdiagnoses can also occur, as healthcare professionals do not have all the information they need to carry out their work properly.

These diagnostic problems may continue after the attack. Attackers can modify medical information without the institution being aware of it: this is a form of medical domination (attackers exert control and influence over healthcare professionals and their patients).

Following a cyber attack, the healthcare establishment is faced with mistrust and a loss of confidence on the part of its patients. A drop in patient numbers and revenue is therefore to be expected. Patients may also put their health at risk by postponing medical visits or refusing to give full access to their information. Here again, diagnoses could be incomplete or falsified.

Protecting health data: strategies and preventive measures

First of all, it is essential to raise awareness and train healthcare professionals in cybersecurity best practices. Decision-makers must also be actively involved in implementing and maintaining information systems risk management policies.

In addition, encrypting sensitive data, implementing off-line back-ups and regularly analysing vulnerabilities are essential steps in strengthening the security of healthcare information systems.

Implementing authentication processes and creating and maintaining incident response plans are essential to ensure continuity of patient care in a secure digital environment.

Critical data must be stored internally or by a certified health data hosting provider (HDS). Companies can also opt for a SecNumCloud qualified data hostwhich currently guarantees the highest level of security. As for outsourcingIf you are looking for a secure administration and maintenance service provider (PAMS), we recommend that you choose one.

*Source: Gènéthique

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