Cybersecurity Risks in Healthcare Industry: Best Practices for Protection

Last updated on November 5th, 2023 at 03:24 pm

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The healthcare industry has always been a prime target for cybercriminals due to the sensitive nature of the data it handles. As technology gets better and more healthcare providers to use digital solutions, it is very important to have strong cybersecurity measures. One area of growing concern is Operational Technology (OT) cybersecurity. 

The digital transformation in the healthcare industry has improved care for patients, streamlined processes, and made it easier for professionals to work together. But the industry is now vulnerable to a lot of cyber threats because it is adopting technology so quickly. This makes cybersecurity a top priority for healthcare organizations. As a result, understanding and managing the risks associated with OT cybersecurity has become an integral part of the industry’s overall security strategy. 

In this article, we’ll talk more about how important OT cybersecurity is in the healthcare industry, look at the risks it poses, and give a full guide to putting best practices in place to protect both IT and OT systems. By doing this, we hope to give healthcare organizations the tools they need to protect their infrastructure, making sure that their patients are safe and well and that their sensitive data is safe. 

What is OT Cybersecurity?

Operational Technology (OT) refers to the hardware and software systems used to monitor, control, and manage industrial processes, such as manufacturing, power generation, and healthcare delivery. OT cybersecurity guide involves the protection of these systems from cyber threats and the safeguarding of critical infrastructure. In contrast, Information Technology (IT) primarily deals with the processing, storage, and communication of data. 

The Risks in the Healthcare Industry

In the healthcare industry, OT environments play a crucial role in the management of medical equipment such as MRI machines, patient monitoring systems, and even building automation systems. As the line between IT and OT systems blurs, the risk of cyberattacks increases, putting patient safety, privacy, and overall healthcare services at stake. Some potential risks include:

Data breaches: 

Unauthorized access to sensitive patient data can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, and reputational damage to the healthcare provider.

Ransomware attacks: 

Cybercriminals can encrypt critical data or systems and demand a ransom to restore access, potentially causing life-threatening delays in patient care.

Equipment malfunction: 

Cyberattacks targeting OT systems can cause medical equipment to malfunction, potentially resulting in injury or death.

Intellectual property theft:

Cybercriminals may target healthcare organizations to steal valuable intellectual property, such as drug formulas or treatment methods.

Best Practices for Protection

To mitigate cybersecurity risks in healthcare, organizations must implement best practices to protect their OT environments. These include:

Assess the risks and make sure you understand them. Healthcare organizations must first do a thorough risk assessment to find any possible weaknesses in their OT environments. This includes understanding the interconnectivity between IT and OT systems, as well as identifying any outdated or unsupported devices.

Implement a strong cybersecurity framework. Using a comprehensive cybersecurity framework, like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework or the ISO/IEC 27001 standard, can help organizations build a solid foundation for managing and reducing cybersecurity risks. 

Segregate networks:

Healthcare organizations should segregate their OT networks from IT networks to limit the potential spread of a cyberattack. Implementing firewalls, virtual local area networks (VLANs), and network access controls can help achieve this goal.

Regularly update and patch systems: Ensuring that all software, firmware, and operating systems are up-to-date and patched is crucial in preventing vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals.

Train employees: 

Cybersecurity awareness training for all employees, including those who work with OT systems, is essential for reducing the risk of successful cyberattacks. Staff should be trained on how to identify and report potential security threats, as well as safe practices for handling sensitive information.

Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA): 

Utilizing MFA for access to critical systems can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access by requiring multiple forms of authentication.

Develop an incident response plan:

Having a well-documented incident response plan in place ensures that organizations can respond quickly and effectively to a cyberattack, minimizing potential damage and downtime.

Conduct regular penetration testing and vulnerability assessments:

Regularly testing your organization’s security posture by simulating cyberattacks can help identify vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. These assessments should be conducted by qualified professionals and should cover both IT and OT systems.

Collaborate with other healthcare organizations and industry partners: 

Sharing threat intelligence and best practices with other healthcare providers and industry partners can help organizations stay informed about emerging cyber threats and improve their overall security posture.

Secure supply chain: Healthcare organizations must ensure that their suppliers and vendors follow stringent security practices. This can be achieved by implementing strict security requirements in contracts and conducting regular audits of third-party systems.

Adopt a zero-trust approach: 

A zero-trust architecture assumes that no user or device can be trusted by default, requiring continuous verification for access to network resources. Implementing this approach in both IT and OT environments can help reduce the risk of unauthorized access and lateral movement within the network.

Implement intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS): 

Deploying IDPS solutions on OT networks can help detect and prevent malicious activities by analyzing network traffic patterns and blocking suspicious traffic.

Encrypt sensitive data:

Data encryption, both at rest and in transit, is essential for protecting sensitive patient information from unauthorized access and potential breaches.

Develop a robust backup and recovery strategy: 

Regularly backing up critical data and systems ensures that healthcare organizations can quickly recover from a cyberattack, minimizing downtime and potential damage.

By taking a proactive approach to OT cybersecurity and following best practices, healthcare organizations can effectively safeguard their critical infrastructure and protect patient safety, privacy, and overall healthcare services. The ongoing collaboration between IT and OT teams, as well as continuous education and training, is essential for maintaining a strong security posture in the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. 


The healthcare industry is confronted with distinct cybersecurity challenges stemming from its dependence on operational technology (OT) environments. Nonetheless, organizations can tackle these challenges by differentiating between IT and OT, embracing industry best practices, and consistently monitoring and logging activity. 

Through continuous monitoring of network and system activity, organizations can rapidly identify and address suspicious behavior. To facilitate this process, implementing a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) system, which aggregates and analyzes log data from multiple sources, can prove instrumental.

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