Safeguarding the UK’s health data – The Importance of Cybersecurity in the UK Healthcare Industry
The past decade has seen major advances in the UK healthcare sector’s digital maturity – with EHRs, Telemedicine, T.E.C., IoT, and now AI/ML increasingly becoming part of both the NHS and private healthcare systems’ digital toolkits. While these significant strides in leveraging increasingly complex technology capabilities allow the sector to enhance patient care, streamline operations and improve research capabilities, they have also left the UK incredibly vulnerable.
In today’s digital age, data is king. With each step towards a more digitally mature system, the UK healthcare sector collects, captures, and collates vast quantities of data. With the endemic issues of interoperability, dark data, and a lack of data sharing in the sector, it would be easy to perceive this data as completely inaccessible. However, while the UK’s current data management and sharing capabilities may make the data seemingly difficult to access and share within the sector, it has created new avenues for cybercriminals to exploit.
As we enter Cybersecurity Awareness Month this October, let’s take a moment to interrogate the UK healthcare sector’s position and exactly why more needs to be done to protect sensitive patient data.
The key challenges in healthcare cybersecurity
- Data privacy – Healthcare organisations store vast quantities of sensitive patient data, including medical records, personal details and NHS identification numbers. The loss or compromise of this data can lead to identity theft, financial fraud and significant privacy violations.
- Ransomware threats – Ransomware attacks demanding substantial ransoms for the release of encrypted patient data have surged in the UK. According to Open Access Government allegedly 81% of UK healthcare organisations suffering some form of a ransomware attack.
- Phishing and Social Engineering – In 2022 the ONS recorded that 6.3% of all instances of Cyberfraud in the UK were Covid-19 related phishing and social engineering attacks. Indeed, Cybercriminals frequently employ phishing attacks to deceive healthcare employees into revealing sensitive information or downloading malicious software. Ultimately, human error remains to be a significant cybersecurity challenge.
- Compliance with GDPR – UK healthcare organisations must adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which imposes stringent data protection requirements. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines, such as Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust’s fine of £78,400 in June 2022.
How can these challenges be combatted?
There are several best practices when it comes to cybersecurity that are paramount. These include implementing robust authentication methods such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), conducting ongoing staff training to raise awareness about cybersecurity threats, encrypting sensitive patient data both in transit and at rest, staying vigilant with timely software patch management, utilising network segmentation to limit movement by cybercriminals and much more. Should a cybercrime be committed, it is essential that a comprehensive incident response plan is developed and in place.
Cybersecurity is not an option but a necessity in the UK healthcare industry. Protecting patient data is both an ethical and legal requirement. The consequences of a breach extend far beyond financial losses, affecting patient trust and even well-being. As we celebrate Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we must realise that cybersecurity is not merely an option; it’s an imperative to protect and uphold the highest standard of patient care and privacy in the UK.