Four Pillars of Cybersecurity for Dentists

Author: Kelley Donald - MarCom/Wednesday, September 14, 2022/Categories: Business Internet

As members of the healthcare community, dentists have large patient databases full of private, confidential information. That means that dental professionals are at a high risk of cyberattacks that threaten to steal and expose that information. 

Many reputable dental offices and companies have been forced to shut down their practices when cybersecurity is put at risk.

The evolution of computer technology means that most businesses rely on computer systems and technology. While this is helpful in many ways, some risks come into play when your patient's medical information and billing information is stored on a computer. 

Simply having a firewall and essential antivirus software is no longer enough to keep cybercriminals from your networks and systems. There needs to be more advanced and sophisticated data protection methods in place to help protect against cybersecurity attacks.

Cybersecurity attacks have been growing over the past years, making them an important source of concern for dental professionals. This is a serious concern, as patients' private information is being threatened, and the demand for a clear and effective cybersecurity system plan is growing. 

More and more cybercriminals are targeting healthcare entities, and the frequency and severity of these attacks on places like dental practices have drastically increased.

Cybersecurity breaches can attack and compromise networks, making it impossible to do business. Malware and ransomware shut down essential functions of your software and demand ransoms and large sums of money to uninstall them. Some cybercriminals also target your patient records and information to steal their accounts and personal data.

Many attacks might come without you even knowing it. A seemingly harmless email or a random call might be the tipping point between your practice being secure and under attack. And if the cybercriminals don't stop you, your penalties for failing to protect confidential information and the PR nightmare that follows might put you out of business. 

While this might seem like nothing more than overdramatic fear mongering, this is the real world of cybersecurity that we live in.

Small to mid-sized businesses are especially at risk since they often do not have the same resources for data security that bigger dental practices will have. Training your staff and ensuring your cybersecurity defenses are secure is necessary to keep your practice compliant and protect your organization against a potential security breach.

Dentists also need to realize that they have a serious source of potential risk in their databases. These are children's records. Many dentists, particularly in small and mid-sized practices, do not have children's records as carefully protected as adult records. 

However, Health and Human Services, as well as the public, require that these records be protected no matter who is handling them, be it a dentist, a cardiologist, or a laboratory. All patient data, including children's data, must be protected in a system.

HIPAA regulations also require that patient data be protected. If data is lost during a security breach, your practice needs to notify every patient on your record that a breach has occurred and their personal information is potentially in the hands of a cybercriminal. 

That can lead to a PR nightmare that will seriously affect the local community. It also can lead to uncomfortable conversations with the parents and guardians of the minors who have had their information stolen. Once patient trust has been violated, it is very hard to regain it back and build strong relationships with your customers and community.

Often, dentists and owners of dental practices are largely unaware of their current cyber security measures. They leave everything in the hands of their IT department or their managed IT services company. However, an IT company is not a cybersecurity company. 

IT organizations need to partner with a company that specializes in cybersecurity and practices in order to make sure that compliance is being met and that the proper measures are in place to help protect a dental practice against a cyberattack.

An IT company or department cannot complete a cybersecurity audit. A cybersecurity company has the knowledge and expertise needed to ensure compliance and security within a network and system, and it is these professionals that a dental practice needs to rely on in order to maintain its network security.

The persistent attacks on dentists have had a severe impact on the community. And dental practices can no longer pass the problem along to an IT company that is not prepared to stop the attacks on dentists. 

Dental practices need to be more proactive in preventing a security breach or data attack, or they can risk cybersecurity attacks and serious fines and penalties for failing to protect patient information.

If a breach occurs, the dental practice needs to follow steps to see if the practice has been compromised. That means hiring a forensic company and working with a cybersecurity company. 

Once you have been a victim of a cybersecurity attack, you are more likely to come under attack again, as you have been marked as vulnerable by cybercriminals. To prevent these attacks from ever occurring in the first place, dental practices need to implement four critical pillars of cybersecurity.


Pillars of Cybersecurity

There are four pillars of cybersecurity that dental practices need to implement in their organizations. Because dental practices are a growing area of concern for cybersecurity attacks, having your patient information protected is key to success and safety. 

By having these four pillars in place, you can save your practice data and ensure that your defenses are at their strongest so that cybercriminals cannot overtake your security methods and steal your patient information.


Cybersecurity Audit

The first pillar of cybersecurity that you need to implement is a cybersecurity audit. Every company needs to have a cybersecurity audit without question. This allows your cybersecurity partner to learn essential information about your data practices and how data is secured and stored in your practice.

During a cybersecurity audit, a cybersecurity company will work closely with your practice and your IT Company to help understand the scope of your IT footprint. 

The cybersecurity company will ask important questions regarding the data you have, where it is stored, what protocols and practices are in place to protect the data, and how different people within your organization can access that data.

They will also ask questions about any remote team members you have, how your practice interacts with billing companies and software, who have "login" access to your practice network, and whether or not anyone is able to leave your practice with patient data on a device, and what plans are in place if the practice is exposed or the data device is stolen outside of the office.

After these questions are asked, the cybersecurity company will go through all of your comprehensive answers to see if there are any areas of risk in your dental organization. 

They will help you develop a plan for cybersecurity if there are any potential areas of risk. They will help you get certified with their company to ensure that your compliance is at the best level of security possible.


Cybersecurity Awareness Training

The next pillar in your cybersecurity is cybersecurity awareness training. This pillar is what helps make sure that your team and staff members are aware of cybersecurity risks and are taking proactive steps to prevent a cybersecurity attack or data breach in your dental practice. There is significant data to prove that there is a reduction in cyberattacks when a healthcare entity like a dental practice can train its staff in cybersecurity best practices.

HIPAA security also dictates that your dental practice undergo security training to be compliant with their requirements. This training can help to mitigate the chances of being targeted by a cyberattack and can work to reduce the human error that can lead to an attack in the first place.

Humans are the number one most vulnerable component of your dental practice. That includes both dentists and their staff members. While advancements and improvements are made in networks and computer technology, people are still the same and are at risk of being tricked by cybercriminals into making a mistake that compromises the network and security of your patient records.

Most ransomware attacks come when a company falls victim to a phishing scheme, which fools a staff member into opening an email that appears to come from someone they trust, usually someone within the organization. 

Once they open the email, the ransomware software can be uploaded to the computer and network. The ransomware will then encrypt files on the network and make certain parts of the network inaccessible unless the practice pays the cybercriminal a ransom.

However, most often, the files are not returned or unencrypted once the ransom has been paid. Instead, the cybercriminal will lay the breadcrumbs for another cyberattack later that will cripple the system again when they feel like it. 

This makes you even more vulnerable to repeated attacks, so you should never immediately pay a ransom. Instead, contact the authorities and move forward from there.


Vulnerability Scanning

While ransomware is an insidious and dangerous type of cyberattack, there needs to be a vulnerability within the system in order for it to take place. 

These vulnerabilities include things like unpatched operations systems, improperly configured firewalls, old and outdated equipment, and systems, weak password protection or shared passwords, unsecured network protocols, or open ports on firewalls and individual computers.

In order to monitor and maintain all of these potential vulnerabilities, cybersecurity companies will use very sophisticated tools and practices to search for the open "doors and windows" within your systems and networks. 

These are the openings that hackers will use to exploit your computers and find ways into your systems if they cannot get through by human error. Running these tools on your systems allows a cybersecurity company to test your devices and find information about your networks to see if there are any areas of vulnerability.

When this data is collected by the cybersecurity company, they can turn that information over to your IT department or company so that they can remediate any potential risk factors and lock those same "doors and windows." 

This helps to alleviate some of the stress on your IT department since the cybersecurity company is the one that invests in the best-in-class tools to find the problems, and their responsibility is then just to fix any detected issues. This testing can occur quarterly, annually, and whenever networks and devices are updated, modified, or added to the systems.


Penetration Testing

The final pillar of cybersecurity is penetration testing. This pillar is almost like a test run to see if a hacker can find a way into your network. A "white-hat" or approved ethical hacker will use the same types of techniques and tools that a regular hacker or cybercriminal would use to try and break into your networks. 

They will try to use a phishing scam, protocol breach, or locate any open "doors and windows" that they can try and use to break into your networks.

Rather than just scanning to see if there are vulnerabilities, the white-hat hacker will actually follow through with each step needed to make a breach into your cyber security defenses and see how far they can go. 

A vulnerability scan will just stop at noticing that there is a potential weakness in your defenses. The white-hat hacker will problem-solve each roadblock to see if they can find a way around it, just like a real cybercriminal would.

These ethical white-hat hackers use their experience to see if they can exploit your networks and find ways into your systems that automated tools will not notice. 

After they finish their testing, they will turn those findings over to your IT department or company and let them know if there were any areas, in which they could hack into your systems. Then your IT team can work on mitigating those risks and closing up all of the potential gaps in your networks.



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