Saturday 24 February 2024

Why Cybersecurity Matters in Laboratory Settings: Key Strategies and Tools

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The healthcare industry unfortunately undertakes the highest cost of a data breach out of all industries. This can be anywhere up to $7.13 million lost in a single cyberattack. Personal identifiable information (PII), protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), is often thought of as being exchanged between doctors and patients or between facilities. You think of email exchanges and patient files. 


By Indiana Lee


Protected health information (PHI), however, includes every bit of identifiable information in medical records that are created and used in a healthcare setting, including laboratories. Read on to learn about ways in which cybersecurity measures can help keep patient information secure in labs.

Understanding the Importance of Cybersecurity as a Whole

To keep laboratory information safe, you must first understand why cybersecurity is important. Cybersecurity keeps cyber threats at bay. These can be internal or external threats. Cyberattacks are often malicious and intended to garner valuable information that is then distributed or used for nefarious purposes, such as identity theft and fraud. Some of the most common types of cyberthreats include:



     Social engineering;


     Man-in-the-middle attacks;

     Denial-of-Service attacks;

     Password attacks;

     Internet of Things (IoT) attacks;

     Injection attacks.


Learning about these threats and how to prevent them is crucial to the security of your laboratory data. Healthcare risk management depends on your ability to predict and thwart cyberattacks. Knowing how to keep patient information safe not only prevents your lab from violating HIPAA but also keeps patients safe, costs down, and operations running smoothly.


Preparing a solid risk management plan for any healthcare facility should be a top priority. After all, your patients are the reason you keep in business. Protecting their information is essential for compliance, reputation, and efficiency and requires adequate training and preparation.

Identifying Vulnerabilities

It’s important to understand the source of vulnerabilities in your laboratory to protect PII. There are external and internal cyber threats that include malicious outside sources, such as cyber attackers and hackers, and malicious or noncompliant internal sources, such as employees. Preventing both involves figuring out any vulnerable points in your laboratory information systems (LIS).


Vulnerabilities that laboratories may encounter include outdated software and systems, which could be susceptible to security breaches if not regularly updated with the latest patches. Even better, strive to implement the latest in healthcare lab tech. It’s more likely to be up to date and receive support from developers when there are vulnerabilities in the software.


Speaking of software, make sure to vet any third-party vendors. Cloud computing can be safer than on-site data storage, as long as you pick the right cloud-based software with plenty of positive reviews and accolades. If you choose to move to cloud-based storage for your lab, make sure you and your team are ready to navigate the implementation and any learning curves. For instance, cloud-based storage is generally safe unless the user makes an error like sending data to the wrong address or leaving uploaded data open on-screen.


Inadequate access controls pose another risk, as unauthorized personnel gaining access to sensitive data could compromise patient confidentiality. Weaknesses in network security, such as insufficient firewalls or unencrypted communication channels, also present problems. Furthermore, human factors, such as employee negligence or lack of awareness about cybersecurity practices, can contribute to vulnerabilities. Conducting thorough risk assessments allows healthcare laboratories to prioritize and address these issues before things go awry.

Implementing Security Protocols — And Continous Training

LIS are only as secure as their users. You can equip the lab with the most updated tech but, without proper data management, PHI is open to costly attacks. To enhance protection, laboratories should adopt a combination of technical and procedural measures. Encryption protocols should be employed for data to safeguard PHI from unauthorized access. Access control mechanisms, including role-based access and strong authentication, can restrict system entry to authorized personnel only. As aforementioned, regularly updating and patching software and systems is crucial to address potential vulnerabilities. Intrusion detection systems can also help you identify and respond to any unusual activities promptly.


Putting all of these protocols in place is a great start, but you must educate staff on how to keep them up. Conducting regular cybersecurity training for staff is essential. Training sessions should cover topics such as recognizing phishing attempts, creating strong passwords, and understanding the importance of data security. If employees don’t understand the magnitude of cybersecurity in healthcare, they won’t take as many measures to protect information and may inadvertently leave PHI open to attacks. Simulated exercises and real-world scenarios can be incorporated to reinforce this importance and have staff regularly practice.

Moving Forward With Lab Security

As you implement these security protocols, make sure to track how well they are working. Establish metrics by which you will track and measure cybersecurity attempts. Then, you can proactively tweak them along the way to enhance security and update training. By consistently updating protocols and providing ongoing training, healthcare laboratories can establish a proactive cybersecurity culture that effectively mitigates risks and protects patient information.

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