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How to Improve Cybersecurity in Your Dental Practice

It’s never been more clear that the future of dentistry is digital. While practices will always be reliant on the manual skills of dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants to some extent, modern tools are making the move toward a digital dental experience more realistic. Electronic patient records, diagnostic imaging and teledentistry all help to improve care for patients and simplify routine procedures for dental professionals.

But with the many advantages these innovative gadgets provide, they also introduce some serious disadvantages, one of which is a major risk to cybersecurity.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many workplaces have transitioned from a physical workplace to a digital one, encouraging staff to work from home and outsourcing many tasks. The positive side of this new way of working is that many businesses were able to continue functioning almost as normal. The negative side is that owners are now putting their business at risk of cyberattacks.

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Why dental practices are targets of cyber criminals

All healthcare facilities, dental practices included, are often targets of cyberattacks because of the information they hold. The databases stored within these types of businesses are full of highly-valuable data, including names, contact info, health histories, insurance information and bank account details. This type of knowledge can be sold to shady companies for a high price or used by the cybercriminals themselves to steal money or commit fraud.

In the first half of 2019, 4.1 billion records were exposed, making it the worst year for data breaching since records began. The healthcare industry was one of the worst affected targets, suffering an estimated $25 billion loss in 2019 as a result. In fact, this industry received the highest number of attacks by ransomware, a type of cyberattack which is expected to quadruple in 2020.

The implications for dental practices

The consequences of being the victim of a cyberattack don’t just affect your patients. They affect you and your business, too. As large companies are getting more serious about keeping their customer data secure, small businesses are becoming easy targets for cybercriminals.

According to Kaspersky, data breaches are more expensive than ever. The average financial impact of a data breach for a small business in 2019 was $108,000. Most dental practices don’t have that kind of money set aside and as a result, many are forced to close within months of an attack.

It’s common for small businesses to postpone making the necessary cybersecurity improvements because they think it’s too expensive. But the reality is the results of a cyberattack will cost you a lot more — namely your business.

What you can do to protect your business

There are many ways you can start protecting your dental practice from a costly and disastrous cyberattack today. Some tactics you’re likely already familiar with and can implement yourself, while others will require the help of a digital security professional.

Even if you just take one of the following preventative measures, it’s a step in the right direction to protect your practice.

Acknowledge that small doesn’t equal safe

Many small business owners believe that cybercriminals are only interested in big corporations, but that simply isn’t true. In 2019, 43% of victims that were subject to data breaches were small businesses. Small organizations of 1-250 employees were the biggest targets of malicious emails, with one email being sent for the purpose of illegally accessing data out of every 323.

The first step to protecting your business is to acknowledge that it’s at risk. When you understand that there’s just as much chance that your business will be targeted as any other business, you can get to work doing what needs to be done to defend it.

Properly store data

As dental practices store more and more data digitally, they become more at risk of being accessed by a cybercriminal. Intelligent industries in the US and UK are warning healthcare organizations of the increased risk of cyberattacks caused by the digital transition created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Forbes, the best way to protect your patients’ data is to:

  • Regularly monitor for potential threats and stay ahead of cyberattacks.
  • Perform frequent tests to assess the security of your data storage system.
  • Ensure the way you store data correctly complies with the latest regulations.
  • Update your data storage methods as necessary to stay ahead.

Educate your dental team about potential threats

As the saying goes, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” To keep your business safe from cyberattackers, you need to make sure everyone in your team understands the risks and how to prevent them when at work.

In 2019, 52% of data breaches were as a result of hacking, 25% were caused by downloaded malware and 32-33% were from phishing or social engineering. To successfully combat threats, make sure your staff understands what each of these terms mean and how to spot them. If you’re unsure yourself, take advantage of the following resources:

Use antivirus and antispyware software on every computer

Even when you know how to spot viruses and spyware online, hackers are incredibly intelligent and can create harmful software that looks totally innocent. An extra step toward protecting your business from cyber attacks is to install antivirus and antispyware software on all your computers.

Protecting your gadgets doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. There are plenty of free and affordable options that will protect your computers from vicious attacks. Just make sure you do your research and read plenty of reviews before downloading anything. You don’t want to accidentally download malware while trying to protect your network.

Update software and apps as soon as updates become available

Cybercriminals are coming up with new ways to access confidential information all the time. That’s one of the reasons computers, programs and apps always seem to be pushing you to update them — so they can protect you from potential hackers.

Whenever you see a pending update, whether it’s for your computer’s operating system or your antivirus software — it’s important you act as soon as you can and update it. Everytime you update something on your computer, it makes it harder for hackers to access important information.

Password protect everything and update your passwords often

Strong passwords are one of the easiest and most effective ways to combat cyberattacks. 

In a 2019 security report, Varonis discovered that only 5% of companies’ folders are properly password protected. If you store your patients’ data in folders on a computer and you don’t password-protect them, a hacker could access them in milliseconds if they get into your computer.

Add an extra level of security to all your devices by implementing password protection wherever you can. From your WiFi network and staff computer accounts to your intranet and important files, if there is anything that could be accessed by people who shouldn’t see it, add a password and keep them out.

Regularly check to see if you’ve been the victim of a data breach

No matter how careful and cautious you are, sometimes it's not enough. On average, hackers attack every 39 seconds — that’s 2,244 times each day. Hackers benefit from valuable information, so they’re not going to make it obvious you’ve been hacked.

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The longer they stay in the shadows, the more information they can collect. In 2019, it took an average of 206 days for companies to realize they’d been the victim of a data breach. Imagine how much important information goes through your computer system in 206 days. A hacker could access all that without you even knowing.

To prevent horrendous damage from a cyberattack, it’s important you find out as soon as possible after it’s happened. If a data breach does occur, act quickly to limit the extent of the damage.

Cyber security is one of the most valuable parts of your business

From teaching dental students online to assessing patient health remotely, it’s amazing how easily the dental industry has adapted to the new normal. And while there are countless benefits to the technology currently in use and the even greater digital advancements just around the corner, all these developments come with a small level of risk. 

To help your business stay at the forefront of dentistry’s digital future, it’s important you embrace modern technology, but understand it has its flaws. Follow our advice to keep your business safe online and you can reap the many benefits that will come your way in the near future with minimal danger.


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