Telehealth, vaccines will be big cybersecurity challenges in 2021, experts predict

The latest security industry forecast from Experian warns that bad actors will continue to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis next year.
By Kat Jercich
12:46 PM
A meeting of people in a computer server room

A new report predicts that cybercriminals will use strategies honed in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to wreak havoc in 2021.  

The report, released this week from consumer credit reporting company Experian, notes that the pivot to new technologies necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic will continue to leave businesses, including those in the healthcare industry, vulnerable to data breaches.  

"Healthcare organizations are evolving for the better, offering patients easier and faster ways to conduct business, but it will come at a price if entities don’t pay attention to cybersecurity," said Experian researchers in the report.

"Hospitals and clinics must continue to be vigilant in keeping their cybersecurity programs up-to-date and under regular review," it continued.

WHY IT MATTERS  

The report predicted that more breaches involving personal medical information are on the horizon, with the quick pivot to digital technologies leaving data vulnerable.

Calling digital health a "blessing and a curse," authors pointed to telemedicine and virtual care as particularly at risk, with organizations sometimes spinning up patchwork solutions without prioritizing security.

"Cyberattacks are nothing new to the healthcare industry. However, a rush to develop and implement telehealth technology, and a host of other digital health services, could make it even easier for cybercriminals looking to gain access to private medical records in the coming year," read the report.  

The experts also warned about contact-tracing apps as a "double-edged sword": useful for helping to minimize the spread of COVID-19, but giving bad actors broad opportunities to impersonate public health officials and install malware on individuals' devices.

And, of course, COVID-19 vaccines are likely to play a major role in 2021's health and security landscape, with streamlined distribution at top of mind for many officials. The report flagged concerns around the particularly nasty threat of disinformation: If enough doubt is sown about vaccine efficacy or safety, global uncertainty and panic could ensue.

Criminals could take advantage of the ouroboros of confusion to infiltrate supply chains and impact vaccine availability, write experts.

THE LARGER TREND

The COVID-19 crisis has already proven to be advantageous for bad actors, with rapid telehealth rollouts and hunger for accurate information in a time of uncertainty acting like "blood in the water" for cybercriminals.

Hackers are already taking aim at the COVID-19 vaccine "cold chain," with criminals launching phishing and spear phishing emails to company executives and other organizations involved in the sub-zero storage and transport needed for distribution of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer and others.  

ON THE RECORD  

"Companies have had to quickly navigate the changes brought about by social distancing guidelines and adapt to remote working environments, with cybersecurity looming as an afterthought. With more information being shared across devices and services, businesses must double down on data protection and security to protect against these emergent risks," read the Experian report.     

 

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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This December, we look back at a challenging year – and forward to what we hope is a better, stronger, more connected and resilient healthcare ecosystem.

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