The telemedicine market is booming. Current expectations forecast the U.S. market alone will exceed $46 billion dollars by 2025. Soon, every major healthcare network will eventually offer patients some form of telehealth services. And with the onset of this new technology, security safeguards for telemedicine are an absolute necessity.
While this technological advancement is beneficial for patients and providers alike, it poses some potential problems—namely, cyberthreats. Telemedicine requires the sharing and transmission of sensitive healthcare patient data. For cybercriminals, this presents an opportunity.
Fortunately for you, the telehealth security threat can be minimized by utilizing cybersecurity best practices. The main goal? To keep your patients’ private information secure.
Security Safeguards for Telemedicine
An IT breach harms your customers, business reputation, and bottom line.
All it takes is one data leak for patients to lose trust in your organization. If that happens, their willingness to share electronic personal health information (ePHI) will diminish. To forestall this, many providers are adopting and implementing new cybersecurity policies focused on keeping patient information safe and secure.
This is why it’s vital that you integrate telemedicine security safeguards, such as:
There are many applications needed for patients and physicians to facilitate, communicate, and share ePHI during a telehealth consultation. And the precipitate rise of telemedicine services has resulted in a bevy of new applications and platforms. Many of them have yet to be properly vetted for security.
This exposes providers to telehealth security risks.
In particular, IT teams are made largely impotent and ineffectual by this lack of control, especially if remote users update their applications immediately after a patch release. According to the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), the ten most common application security risks include:
- Broken authentication
- Sensitive data exposure
- XML external entities
- Broken access control
- Security misconfiguration
- Cross-site scripting XSS
- Insecure deserialization
- Using components with known vulnerabilities
- Insufficient logging and monitoring
To prevent these threats from occurring, keep in mind the following:
- Downloading apps – If you must download an application, only do so from a reputable source. Similarly, only use telecommunications platforms that have been vetted. Consider checking with your HR department prior to downloading and connecting to a new telemedicine platform.
- Purchasing apps – Don’t purchase digital tools from a third-party vendor without first assessing the level of risk that the new digital product poses. Speak with the vendor and clearly stipulate your security expectations. It might be necessary to update your security protocols and practices in response to new potential threats.
In addition to these considerations, your IT team should use web-application firewalls to reduce common security risks like a zero-day threat or those mentioned above.
Network Access Control (NAC)
NAC solutions form a critical line of cyberdefense, significantly improving visibility over an entire network. NAC allows an IT team to observe every IoT device connected to and operating within your network infrastructure. For telemedicine services, this is especially important since a good portion of telehealth consultations are conducted via mobile devices, including:
- Smart phones
- Portable medical devices
NAC solutions identify, track, and monitor each and every device that’s on your health network. That monitoring begins the moment a device connects. If the system notices a device is displaying unusual or suspicious behavior, it can send automated responses to the person.
Additionally, NACs utilize micro-segmentation security techniques, which limit a device’s access to the network. Per Healthcare IT News, “In essence, microsegmentation is all about creating small restricted segments of network that are only able to communicate with one another.” By employing micro-segmentation techniques, NAC solutions ensure that only the right personnel can access and remove data that’s relevant to their purpose.
Public wifi is a significant exposure risk to your telemedicine network. Any time a person uses public wifi, they are joining a network that’s accessible to any other person in the immediate vicinity. Everyone on it connects to the same router and hotspot. Thus, the devices on the network can be accessed by other users. This makes it easy for hackers to phish and eavesdrop on the communications of employees and patients connected to the network.
A great way to protect your telemedicine network from the dangers of wifi is via a peer-to-peer virtual private network (VPN).
VPNs provide patients and physicians a secure way to connect to their enterprise network remotely.
The VPN encrypts data as it passses through a provider’s network before it’s sent to an internet-hosted app. Theoretically, while this information could be intercepted, it would have little impact, being that the data would be illegible.
At its core, a VPN uses cryptographically secure algorithms to condense data and transfer it over the Internet. Given that this information is encrypted from the very first time it’s sent, if it happens to fall into a cybercriminal’s hands, it’s going to be unreadable.
A VPN connection provides:
- Firewall protection
- Endpoint protection
- Content filtering
To enable the VPN to do its job, you must make sure that the VPN software is up to date. Additionally, you need to test the system for missing patches, configuration issues, known exploits, and other common vulnerabilities.
By taking these precautions, you help protect sensitive patient data.
Multi-Factor Identity Authentication (MFA)
An effective security practice that can apply to your entire operation is the use of continuous identity authentication.
A single identity authentication doesn’t go far enough. Instead, you should integrate multi-factor authentication, also known as two-factor authentication. It provides an extra barrier and layer of security, capable of blocking more than 99.9 percent of account compromising attacks.
A multi-tier login protocol makes it much harder for hackers to gain access to a system, particularly if you do it the right way. Per Health Security IT, “The goal should be to go beyond usernames and passwords with a security question and another factor, such as verification with a key code after the initial login request. MFA use can reduce the possibility of an unauthorized user posing as an authorized individual to gain access to sensitive resources and applications.”
A multi-factor identity authentication can augment your telemedicine security safeguards in several ways, including:
- Decreased reliance on passwords – Passwords are incredibly vulnerable to hacks, particularly phishing attacks.
- Heightened security – An MFA ensures that only the approved user can enter and access the device, application, or network.
- Improved staff workflow – Many MFA protocols—like fingerprint readers or generated codes sent to the users cell phone—are easier to use than a complicated password that must be changed every 60 to 90 days.
- A password-free workplace – Passwords regularly pose a security problem, especially since employees tend to select a password that’s easy to remember and not one that’s difficult to crack. Some providers are using internal MFA as a complete substitute for password protection.
Manage Mobile Device Access
When it comes to personal devices, providers must ride a healthy line between accessibility and security. Today, practitioners must be able to safely access telemedicine platforms and ePHI from their own device, as opposed to a corporate device and particularly when they’re at home.
The recent pandemic has forced organizations to laxen or, at least, temporarily revise their BYOD policy. Providers need to focus on proper mobile device management tools and practices to ensure that personal devices aren’t used to penetrate the network.
It’s vital that you segregate personal devices from healthcare applications and patient data. This significantly decreases the potential risk of a data leak or the chances of a stolen or lost device being used against you.
As mobile devices become an integral facet of healthcare and telemedicine services, you must have a robust and secure mobile device program that limits access by user or potential risk.
Organization-owned devices should be granted the most access, whereas BYOD mobile devices should have the least.
A Company Wide Ethos
Instilling security safeguards for telemedicine must be a company effort from the top down. Everyone must do their part to minimize the risk of a cyberbreach.
Although there are dozens of potential vulnerabilities, the number one threat to any organization is its employees.
Rarely is this done on purpose. In most cases, it’s the result of negligence, lack of attention, or incompetence. Oftentimes, employees simply aren’t aware of the threat their actions—or lack thereof—pose. This laxness results in behaviors such as:
- Accessing work devices via public wifi
- Bringing their own devices to work
- Clicking on phishing links
- Using weak passwords and not updating them regularly
This can be largely prevented by educating your employees about best practices for cyber security and the regulations that govern your industry.
HIPAA and Telemedicine
In the world of healthcare, there’s been a departure from the traditional outcomes-based care model toward a patient-centric, value-based care model. The end goal is to improve patient engagement and satisfaction. Technology adoption, namely telemedicine, has played an integral role in this evolution.
While telemedicine provides a host of benefits, particularly increasing patient access to care, it also exposes providers to significant cyber-risk. This is largely because medical data and personal health records contain some of the most sensitive information available.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 enacted data privacy and security provisions to protect patients’ medical information.
Under HIPAA, sharing ePHI digitally isn’t allowed—even if it’s just between a doctor and patient—unless the communication channel is secure. The HIPAA Security Rule stipulates that:
- Only authorized users should have access to ePHI.
- A system of secure communication should be implemented to protect the integrity of ePHI.
- A system of monitoring communications containing ePHI should be implemented to prevent accidental or malicious breaches.
Covid-19 and HIPAA
In light of Covid-19, the Department of HHS recently announced that it won’t be levying penalties for HIPAA noncompliance against providers who use telehealth platforms that fail to uphold the privacy standard.
This was done to increase patient access to online care.
Practitioners are now allowed to use telecommunication platforms like Zoom or Skype. Yet these platforms aren’t built with the same integrated protections against cyberthreats. Per the Cardiometabolic Health Congress:
Recently, a growing number of reports have been issued concerning hackers targeting Zoom domains and other applications used in the telehealth space. In addition, there has been an increase of warnings pertaining to COVID-19 fraud schemes and supply chain attacks as cyber criminals have been taking advantage of rising use.
Although you now have the option to use these platforms, the risk of a cyber breach is far too high. For now, stick to the system you currently have. If you must use them, opt for the paid business versions, which come with additional security features.
Additionally, it’s vital that your entire organization is embracing best practices and security protocols.
Applying Telemedicine Security Safeguards to Your Organization
Telemedicine is a powerful tool that expands and increases patient access to high-quality healthcare services. Simultaneously, it creates new cyberthreat exposures for anyone that adopts it.
Should a breach happen, it could cause irreparable harm to your business, impacting your reputation and bottom line. In order to satisfy security safeguards for telemedicine and HIPAA compliance, it’s essential that you adopt the best practices we referenced:
- Application security
- Network access controls
- Multi-factor identity authentication
- Managed mobile device access
- A company wide security ethos
Remember, these security practices aren’t exclusive to telemedicine. They should be broadly applied across the entire expanse of your organization. By doing so, you dramatically reduce your risk exposure.
Don’t know where to begin? You already have. You’re at RSI Security.
As the nation’s premier compliance and cybersecurity provider, we’re committed to helping organizations improve their cybersecurity efforts. Whether you need consulting, guidance, compliance testing, or an expert to manage your IT and security, RSI Security can do it all.
Need a security expert for telemedicine? We’re ready and willing to assist. Contact RSI today!
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Global News Wire. U.S. Telemedicine Market to hit $64 billion by 2025: Global Market Insights, Inc. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/09/26/1921181/0/en/U-S-Telemedicine-Market-to-hit-64-billion-by-2025-Global-Market-Insights-Inc.html
HIPAA Journal. HIPAA Guidelines on Telemedicine. https://www.hipaajournal.com/hipaa-guidelines-on-telemedicine/
Health and Human Services. OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/03/17/ocr-announces-notification-of-enforcement-discretion-for-telehealth-remote-communications-during-the-covid-19.html
Cardiometabolic Health Congress. Cybersecurity Best Practices for Practitioners Using Telemedicine. https://blog.cardiometabolichealth.org/2020/04/23/cybersecurity-best-practices-for-practitioners-using-telemedicine/
OWASP. OWASP Top Ten. https://owasp.org/www-project-top-ten/
Healthcare IT News. Microsegmentation: Keeping IoT expansion risks at bay. https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/microsegmentation-keeping-iot-expansion-risks-bay
Microsoft. One simple action you can take to prevent 99.9 percent of attacks on your accounts. https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/2019/08/20/one-simple-action-you-can-take-to-prevent-99-9-percent-of-account-attacks/
Health IT Security. Must-Have Telehealth, Remote Work Privacy and Security for COVID-19. https://healthitsecurity.com/news/must-have-telehealth-remote-work-privacy-and-security-for-covid-19