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Are you Safeguarding Your Dental Practice Data from Ransomware?

Kiltesh Patel
April 24, 2019

Data breaches are costly to dental practices. According to a study sponsored by IBM Security and conducted by Ponemon Institute, data breaches cost the healthcare industry $380 per compromised record. Recently, hundreds of dental practices that got compromised were asked to pay bitcoins. Are you safe?

When a data breach occurs, you’ll not only incur hefty HIPAA penalties but also have to pay for reporting the information to the media, notifying the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), forensic investigation, andransomware hitting dental offices credit monitoring services for affected patients.

Not to mention, a data breach will damage your reputation and erode the trust your patients and community have in your practice. In fact, the Ponemon Institute estimated that lost revenue and brand value account for 40 percent of the total cost of a data breach.

Even more alarming, as much as 60 percent of small businesses have to close their doors within 6 months of suffering a cyber attack, so it’s imperative that you understand how to protect your dental practice from hackers.

What’s Malware?

Malware, short for malicious software, is designed to disrupt, damage, or gain unauthorized access to a computer network. It’s a blanket term referring to viruses, worms, trojans, and other harmful computer programs that hackers use, often to gain access to sensitive information.

There are many forms of malware, such as ransomware, spyware, adware, and cryptojacking. In particular, ransomware is widely used by criminals to attack the healthcare industry, including dental practices.

For example, a dental practice in Minnesota was targeted by a hacker twice in a week and Dr. Wallin had to pay over $70,000 to regain access to his patient database and get his files back.

How Does Malware Affect Patient Data?

Malware can be used by criminals to access sensitive patient data, which can be monetized in many ways -- resulting in identity theft and insurance fraud that could cost consumers extensive damages.

Some malware, such as DeFray, permanently encrypt a victim’s file. If the medical or dental practice doesn’t have a recent backup, important information regarding a patient’s health and treatments could be lost. Medical devices can also be hacked, leading to errors and delay in providing treatments.

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How Are Dental Practices Targeted?

There are many ways cyber criminals can target a practice's electronic systems and gain access to confidential medical records and sensitive patient information (e.g., social security number, date of birth, and other demographic information,). They can sell on the dark market or use to commit insurance fraud!

Here are some common points of vulnerabilities that hackers tend to target:

  • Emails: hackers send emails to employees with malicious files attached. It takes only one employee to open one infected file to give criminals access to your entire electronic system.
  • Phishing: criminals can send links disguised as the login page of your dental practice management software to your employees to capture their credentials, which can be used to access your system.
  • Outdated software: hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in software applications to gain access to your network. For example, the WannaCry malware exploited a vulnerability in unpatched Windows system, blocking doctors from accessing patient data in around 200,000 medical facilities.
  • Unattended equipment: if a computer is left unattended while remaining logged in to your network, hackers can gain access to your system and you may not even notice the intrusion at all.
  • Server room: if your system runs on an on-premise server, hackers can gain unauthorized access to your network by breaking into your server room and manipulating the hardware.

How To Lower Cyber Security Threat To Your Dental Practice

Most dental practices don’t have the extensive IT resources to keep up with the latest cyber security best practices and sufficiently protect their systems by staying ahead of cyber criminals.

It has become increasingly costly for most dental practices to stay HIPAA compliant by implementing the latest security measures on an on-premise network solution.

To minimize security issues associated with storing on-premises data, more dental practice are moving to cloud-based dental software as a solution to data security threats.

Moving to cloud eliminates the risk of ransomware hitting the data because protected patient data is not stored locally, hence, the risk of getting compromised is mitigated completely. In case of getting infected by ransomware, all you need do is unplug the network, re-format hard-disk and reinstall OS to start fresh - it is that simple! 

In addition, here’s why cloud-based dental practice management platforms offer enhanced security and compliance:

  • Reputable providers have teams of security experts dedicated to ensuring that the platform follows the latest security best practices and stays HIPAA compliant at all times.
  • Cloud providers are responsible for updating the software so you don’t have to worry about hackers exploiting vulnerabilities.
  • You can easily and quickly scale up your practice without having to worry about adding IT resources to support cyber security.
  • Reputable providers have comprehensive backup and recovery plans, as well as built-in redundancies, to ensure that patient data can be retrieved with minimal downtime.
  • Cloud providers house their servers in secure locations that are certified to be compliant with the highest industry standards.
  • You can set access control to your platform to ensure that only authorized personnel can view or edit sensitive data. Most cloud applications also provide extensive tracking and analytics so you can see exactly who has accessed patient information and recognize unusual patterns or suspicious activities.

Conclusion

Using cloud-based dental practice management software can help you mitigate many security risks associated with on-premise data storage. You can better protect your patients’ sensitive information and stay HIPAA compliant while lowering the cost associated with maintaining IT security.

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