The security of healthcare data remains a challenge in institutions across the U.S. A recent Stanford University report estimates a 48% growth in medical data each year 1, from which stolen records can be sold for as much as $1,000 each on the black market 2. It is estimated that 50 million Americans had their sensitive health data breached in 2021 alone 3. There are many ways to protect healthcare information. This article will focus on encryption as a method for cybersecurity in the healthcare space.
Cryptography is an indispensable tool used to protect information in any organization, enabling secure transmission over the Internet. Data encryption in healthcare specifically refers to the conversion of sensitive and confidential patient data into a coded language that can only be accessed by authorized individuals with a decryption key, improving cybersecurity. In this context, both artificial intelligence and quantum technology are transforming the health sector in regard to cybersecurity 4.
Healthcare cloud computing, which is increasingly the norm, presents with a unique set of challenges. According to a recent meta-analytic review, data security, availability, and integrity, as well as information confidentiality and network security remain major challenges inherent to cloud security in healthcare 5.
However, data encryption, authentication, and classification represent powerful cybersecurity solutions that are important for healthcare data. Data encryption in particular can be applied to store and retrieve data from the cloud in order to ensure secure communication.
It remains difficult for healthcare providers and their business associates to balance delivering quality care and keeping information systems accessible to providers with protecting patient privacy and meeting the strict regulatory requirements set forth by the U.S.’ Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), among other regulations.
In light of increasing regulatory requirements for healthcare data protection, healthcare organizations that take a proactive approach to implementing best practices for healthcare cybersecurity are best equipped for continued compliance and at lower risk of suffering costly data breaches. Best practices include but are not limited to educating healthcare staff, implementing data usage controls, restricting access to data and applications, securing mobile devices, and encrypting data. Alongside data encryption and other measures though, it remains equally important to conduct regular risk assessments, use off-site data backups, and regularly test the compliance of business associates 6.
Most recently, in the spring of 2023, Vaultree, a major player in cybersecurity, announced a leap forward in healthcare data protection, introducing its industry-first fully functional data-in-use encryption solution to the sector 7. Combined with a software development kit and an encrypted chat tool, this technology aims to provide full-scale protection of sensitive patient data, even in the event of a breach, without compromising operational efficiency.
Additional research and development remains to be carried out in the field of cybersecurity on encryption and beyond for healthcare data in order to optimize patient privacy and well-being. Further areas of development are sure to include, among other technologies, quantum computing as it relates to data encryption 8.
- Harnessing the Power of Data in Health. https://med.stanford.edu/content/dam/sm/sm-news/documents/StanfordMedicineHealthTrendsWhitePaper2017.pdf
- Patient medical records sell for $1K on dark web. Available at: https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/cybersecurity/patient-medical-records-sell-for-1k-on-dark-web.html/. (Accessed: 24th June 2023)
- Health data breaches swell in 2021 amid hacking surge, POLITICO analysis finds – POLITICO. Available at: https://www.politico.com/news/2022/03/23/health-data-breaches-2021-hacking-surge-politico-00019283. (Accessed: 24th June 2023)
- Jayanthi, P. & Iyyanki, M. Cryptography in the Healthcare Sector With Modernized Cyber Security. in (2020). doi:10.4018/978-1-7998-2253-0.ch008
- Mehrtak, M. et al. Security challenges and solutions using healthcare cloud computing. Journal of Medicine and Life (2021). doi:10.25122/jml-2021-0100
- Healthcare Cybersecurity: Tips for Securing Private Health Data. Available at: https://www.digitalguardian.com/blog/healthcare-cybersecurity-tips-securing-private-health-data. (Accessed: 24th June 2023)
- Vaultree Sets a New Benchmark in Healthcare Cybersecurity with Industry-First, Fully Functional Data-In-Use Encryption Solution | Business Wire. Available at: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20230523005486/en/Vaultree-Sets-a-New-Benchmark-in-Healthcare-Cybersecurity-with-Industry-First-Fully-Functional-Data-In-Use-Encryption-Solution. (Accessed: 24th June 2023)
- Quantum Cryptography and the Health Sector. (2022). https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/quantum-cryptography-and-health-sector.pdf