How to Effectively Protect Your Dental Practice from Cyber Security Threats

Contributed by: MNP

Cyber attacks and breaches are increasing with the rapid rate of digital adoption — and becoming more damaging. While companies are spending large sums of money to enhance the security of their digital investments, cyber attacks and breaches continue to succeed. Eighty-five percent of organizations suffered at least one successful cyber attack last year according to CyberEdge Group’s 2023 Cyberthreat Defense Report. What are businesses getting wrong with cyber security, and what needs to change to protect your organization from threats?

You need to reset your cyber security mindset to reduce risks as the digital landscape continues to transform. This will require leaders to prioritize security when adopting new technology, rethink cyber security’s position within your organization, and build security into your business processes. Let’s review the cost of a successful cyber attack, how to transform your organization’s approach to cyber security, and five essential steps you can take to reduce cyber threats.

Key cyber security risks to watch for

Preventing a significant cyber security attack means being aware of and prepared for what kinds of risks exist.

Here are a few key risks specific to healthcare professionals who run their own practices:

Preventing a significant cyber security attack means being aware of and prepared for what kinds of risks exist.

Here are a few key risks specific to healthcare professionals who run their own practices:

  1. Patient Data Breaches: Medical practices store large amounts of sensitive patient information, including personal and financial data. Cybercriminals may attempt to breach the practice's systems to steal this data, which can be used for identity theft, financial fraud, or other malicious activities. Patient data breaches can lead to significant legal and financial consequences for the practice.
  2. Ransomware Attacks: Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a victim's files or locks them out of their systems, demanding a ransom payment in exchange for restoring access. Medical practices are attractive targets for ransomware attacks because they often rely heavily on electronic health records (EHRs) and may be more willing to pay to regain access to critical patient data.
  3. Insider Threats: Employees within the practice, including disgruntled staff members or those who may accidentally mishandle sensitive data, can pose a significant cyber security risk. Unauthorized access, data theft, or accidental data breaches can all result from insider threats. It is crucial for medical practices to implement appropriate access controls and monitoring systems to mitigate these risks.
  4. Phishing Attacks: Phishing is a common cyber attack method where attackers send deceptive emails or messages to trick recipients into revealing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links. Doctors and dentists are often targeted through phishing emails disguised as urgent patient requests or official communications from healthcare organizations. Falling victim to phishing attacks can compromise sensitive practice data or lead to further network intrusions.
  5. Inadequate Infrastructure and Security Practices: Small medical practices may lack the resources or expertise to implement robust cyber security measures. Outdated software, weak passwords, unpatched systems, and lack of employee training can all contribute to vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals.
  6. Medical Device Vulnerabilities: With the increasing integration of connected medical devices and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, such as remote monitoring devices and implantable medical devices, there is a growing concern about their security vulnerabilities. Compromised medical devices can lead to patient safety risks, data breaches, or unauthorized access to the practice's network.

Mitigating your practice’s risk

There are a few ways you can prepare yourself for cyber security threats, both ahead of an attack and in the immediate aftermath of one. It’s likely you’ll experience, or have experienced, a cyber security attack and knowing how to best approach the situation to mitigate risk is invaluable.

Here are a few ways to mitigate that risk:

  1. Beware of complacency: Organizations, like people, are prone to follow the path of least resistance. Practice owns will often invest heavily in fortifying their cyber defenses only to set the issue aside after they’ve received a clean bill of health and won’t revisit the issue until they’ve experienced an attack or a near miss. Consider a cyber security and privacy assessment at least annually to help illustrate if there’s any need for extra protections or changes to your policies.
  2. Employee training: Ongoing training for all employees of cyber security best practices – such as how to recognize and avoid phishing attempts, setting strong passwords, and awareness of your practice’s response plan in the event of an attack – ensures everyone is on the same page and understands the importance of working together towards cyber safety. The overwhelming majority of attacks boil down to human error so setting clear guidelines for everyone from the receptionist to the owner keeps the policies and their importance a top-of-mind consideration.
  3. Regular updates and patches: It may sound simple but keeping your software systems up to date and patched as needed – including operating systems and medical device software – addresses existing and can prevent future vulnerabilities. It’s also key to back up your critical data regularly and test the restoration process to ensure business continuity in case of a cyber attack of data loss incident.
  4. Plan for the worst-case scenario: While there are no guarantees, technology, strong policies, and training can significantly reduce the likelihood of a breach. But human error, software vulnerability, or a persistent hacker can all reveal cracks in even the very best cyber defenses. An effective cyber incident response plan will provide clear instructions about how to report a breach, when to call a third-party advisor, when to call legal counsel, how to document and report details, and how to communicate with employees and affected parties. It is up to practice owners to set the tone for how to mitigate and manage cyber risks and be willing to accept that the worst-case scenario is a possibility that must be planned for.

Get the help you need when you need it

It can seem like a daunting task to prepare for something you have no way of knowing how or when it might happen.

Think about your practice’s cyber security needs the same way you think about recommending regular check ups to patients. It’s part of an overall approach to prevention that ensures measures can be taken as early as possible if needed to prevent negative outcomes. It doesn’t mean that your patients won’t get sick, but it can prevent them from getting sicker. As their healthcare provider, you know their history and can use that information to provide better care.

MNP is the exclusive referral partner of CDSPI for personal and business accounting and tax services to address the unique needs of CDSPI clients. This article is provided by MNP for informational and educational purposes only as of the date of writing. This information should not be considered investment, tax or legal professional advice. For specific advice about your situation, please consult a tax, accounting, legal or financial professional. The information contained herein has been drawn from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed to be accurate or complete. CDSPI, CDSPI Advisory Services Inc., MNP and our affiliates are not liable for any errors or omissions in the information, analysis or views contained in this article, or for any loss or damage suffered.