At first glance, cyber security might not seem like it would be a major concern for dental clinics. After all, their focus is on providing high quality healthcare and making patients as comfortable as possible – so are they really a big target for hackers?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes: because clinics deal in so much private information, and because most clinics are relatively small operations, they have become magnets for cyber criminals looking to steal personal and financial information they can use to turn a profit.
Moreover, research shows that cyber attacks can have a devastating impact on small businesses like dental clinics. According to one study, forty-three percent of cyber attacks target small businesses, sixty percent of which fold within six months of the attack. These are risks that no dental practice can afford to take.
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post outlining some of the most common types of cyber attack and explaining some of the ways dental clinics can use practice management software to protect their financial records, patient files and other documents. Today, I want to follow up on that post by exploring ransomware attacks, identity theft schemes and the importance of developing a resilient strategy for weathering cyber attacks.
Ransomware: When Data Becomes a Hostage
In my previous post, I talked about phishing scams and malware that cyber criminals use to steal financial and credit card information. These types of attacks are designed to trick unsuspecting individuals into handing over personal financial information and all dental clinics should be on the lookout for them.
As mentioned in previous blogs, one type of malware – ransomware – has become particularly prominent. Unlike other forms of malware, ransomware doesn’t try to steal information from your database. Instead, it encrypts all the files on a computer’s hard drive and demands payment in return for decryption. Once you have been hit with the ransomware attack, you are forced to choose between having all of your information deleted or paying large sums of money to unlock your data.
You can learn more about how ransomware has developed, and the unique threat it presents, in this video:
Ransomware is particularly dangerous because it can be difficult to track and cyber criminals are constantly adapting and tweaking their methods for delivering ransomware to your computer.
For this reason, the only real way to protect yourself from a ransomware attack is to make sure that your live data is accessed from cloud servers (rather than an on-site server) and that it gets backed up regularly in the cloud. This will ensure that your data won’t be held hostage due to unauthorized access and that you’ll have reliable copies if you ever need them.
Beware of Identity Theft Data Mining
While we often emphasize the financial costs of hacking, it is especially important for dental clinics to remember that there is another dimension to the problem: because they deal with large amounts of detailed and private information, many hackers will target clinics to mine data they can use for the purposes of identity theft. Consequently, we advise our ABELDent clients to never store sensitive information such as patient credit card numbers on their systems.
If a cyber criminal gets hold of your patient’s clinical records, this can plunge you into a bureaucratic nightmare for failing to protect confidential healthcare information. Fines and penalties can drain your bank account and interrupt just about every aspect of your life for months on end.
At ABELDent, we have been talking for years about the importance of protecting patient information and recent legal developments only serve to underscore the importance of making sure that dental clinics are taking all necessary precautions to protect against identity theft.
Upgrading to cloud-based practice management software can make a world of difference in this regard, as it’s specifically designed to help healthcare professionals keep their patients’ data safe, while also protecting against data breaches that can lead to potentially ruinous court cases.
How Quickly Can You Bounce Back?
While it’s important to provide as many layers of protection as possible when it comes to cyber security, the chances are high that you will still be the victim of some kind of attack at some point. So, what do you do when that happens?
- Having a plan in place is crucial if you want to be able to bounce back quickly from a cyber attack. Evidence shows that clinics that have a system in place are usually able to get back up and running within hours, but only if they have backed their systems up properly and have protocols in place to minimize damage.
- Preparing your team so that they know who to call and what to do in the eventuality of a cyber attack is key if you want to make it through an attack unscathed. So take the time to train your staff on the right procedures -and make sure you are regularly backing up your data in secure ways!
Based on the cyber security outlook for 2019 , we’re no closer to preventing the occurrence of cyber crime. In fact, for small businesses like dental clinics, the likelihood of being hit by some kind of cyber attack will probably only increase in the coming year. This is why it’s so important for clinics to take the necessary measures to protect themselves from attacks that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, shut them down permanently and even get them into legal trouble.
In summary, don’t take any chances with your cyber security: backup your data regularly in the cloud. Better still, use a dental practice management system that accesses your live practice data from cloud servers so that it is never stored on-site and susceptible to attacks. You will be much less susceptible to an attack and even in the unlikely event that you are hit, you can recover easily with up-to-date backups.