Healthcare Cybersecurity in 2021: Top Risks & Best Precautions

In an increasingly online and digital world, cybersecurity is a top concern in the healthcare industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the move to technological solutions for healthcare providers. Unfortunately, this shift has increased the opportunities for cybercrime, with a recent report finding that cyberattacks on healthcare doubled in 2020.

So what are some of the biggest cybersecurity risks for healthcare providers? And what can providers do to minimize these risks? We address these questions below.

Common Cybersecurity Risks for Healthcare Data

Healthcare information and payment data are goldmines for cybercriminals. This makes healthcare providers prime targets for cyberattacks. And the downside risks are even greater in the healthcare industry since a data breach can result in a huge hit to a healthcare provider’s reputation and bottom line.

The following are some of the most common cybersecurity risks for healthcare data.

Ransomware and Other Malware

One of the greater cybersecurity threats for healthcare organizations is malware, or  “malicious software” – software designed to exploit or damage systems, networks, and devices. And one of the most common malware attacks is ransomware, which serves to hold data captive until the victim makes the payment demanded to release the data.

Ransomware is especially dangerous in the healthcare field since it can shut down operations at a medical facility. The world’s first death by ransomware may have occurred at a German hospital in September 2020. A ransomware attack disabled the hospital’s computer systems, and a patient scheduled for life-saving treatment died as doctors attempted to transfer her to another hospital.


Phishing is the sending of fraudulent communications disguised to appear as if they are from legitimate sources. The communications are generally emails, although phone communications are another form of phishing. The sender’s goal is for the recipient to either share sensitive information or download malware. A recent report found that phishing is one of the greatest cybersecurity threats for healthcare organizations.

Malicious Network Traffic

The term “malicious network traffic” refers to any suspicious connections, links or files that are created or received over a computer network. The link can then compromise the individual computer. Malicious network traffic is often an early sign of malware in the system. Antivirus software is generally designed to guard against this threat, but it is still highly prevalent.

Vulnerable Operating Systems

The operating system of a healthcare organization can be vulnerable to hacking if the system is older or has not been updated. A March 2020 report found that 83% of healthcare systems were running on outdated software.

Reducing Healthcare Cybersecurity Risk

Avoiding digital, phone, and online communications is not an option for providers. In fact, failing to embrace these options would put them at a severe disadvantage in the modern world. Fortunately, there are many steps healthcare providers can take to reduce their cybersecurity risk, such as the following:

  • Multifactor Authentication (MFA): MFA requires the user to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to an application or account, instead of just a username and password.
  • System Backup: Healthcare organizations need reliable options for storage and restoration, especially in the case of a malware attack.
  • Vulnerability Management: System vulnerabilities can be managed by regularly updating software, browsers, and operating systems.
  • Secure Payment Data and PHI: Specific protocols should be in place to secure patient payment data and personal health information (PHI). And any processor of that information must be HIPAA-compliant.

These preventive actions can be taken both within the organization and by partnering with outside vendors that also prioritize cybersecurity.


Cyberattacks will continue to be a threat to healthcare providers for the foreseeable future. But by being aware of the risks and implementing preventive measures, healthcare organizations can still utilize the technological advantages of the modern world. To see how BillingTree can improve your payment processing while still maximizing cybersecurity, request a demo today.

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