Safeguarding Your Dental Practice
October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month—a fitting time to discuss the increasingly critical role of cybersecurity in dental practices. As a cybersecurity specialist with more than 20 years of experience in the dental industry, I know this subject can be overwhelming.
With dental cybersecurity, the jargon builds walls that keep people from taking action. We need to do better in explaining what’s required, why, and show ROI. Training is paramount.Steve Genge, CEO Alexio Corporation
From the complex terminology to fears we may have about what might happen to our practices, it’s hard to know where to start. However, just like a root canal, with the right expertise, you can navigate it painlessly.
Cyber threats exist but there are things we can do
The digitization of dental practices, including practice management software, digital X-rays, and online appointment booking systems, have undoubtedly improved efficiency. However, they’ve also exposed potential vulnerabilities that hackers are keen to exploit. This can lead to unauthorized access, data breaches, and even the loss of patient trust.
Third-party breaches have also become problematic.
Basic cybersecurity awareness training can improve security posture by up to 70%.Tessian, 2021
Protecting our practices
As diagnostics, treatments, and technology evolve in the dental industry, treatment protocols often are modified. This is very much the same in the cybersecurity industry. In today’s world, we are connected everywhere, personally and professionally in our workplace. Sometimes it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins because of the high degree of integration of applications and other technologies. As a result, a basic understanding of cybersecurity has become an essential life skill.
1. Awareness of potential issues
The first line of defense in dental cybersecurity is recognizing that threats exist. In the digital world, this awareness is similar to a routine dental checkup to prevent and/or detect early signs of oral disease. Likewise, in a digital world, phishing emails appearing as harmless requests for information or legitimate links are the early preventable signs of data breaches.
Training staff to recognize such deceitful tactics can prevent malware installation or unauthorized access to your systems. Last year, Tessian estimated that basic cybersecurity awareness training can increase the security posture of an organization by as much as 70%.
2. Password hygiene
Next, we focus on strengthening our ‘digital enamel’ through effective password management. Weak passwords allow cyber criminals to breach online accounts. Using unique, strong passwords and regularly updating them can protect against unauthorized access and will help prevent access to your other online accounts if one account is breached. Consider utilizing a password manager, a secure vault that stores complex passwords, which increases your practice’s digital defenses.
3. 2-step logins
Another cybersecurity measure is the implementation of two-factor authentication (2FA). Like an X-ray helps to diagnose oral disease when coupled with other tests, 2FA adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of identification, reducing the likelihood of unauthorized access. Even if a hacker obtains your login credentials, their efforts can often be thwarted with this layer of authentication. This protection can be facilitated via an app on your smartphone, SMS message, or email.
4. Proper backup protocols:
Backups like mouthguards can make all the difference if you’re hit hard by a system failure, data corruption or ransomware attacks. Regular backups ensure that patient data can be recovered quickly and effectively. It is important to store backups offsite or on a secure cloud platform for extra safety.
Determine the type of backup you need by asking your information technology (IT) provider 3 questions:
- Am I protected from all forms of disasters including ransomware?
- How long will it take to recover to full operations following each of those disasters?
- What is the minimum and maximum amount of data that will be lost with the type of system being recommended?
Note: there are dramatic differences in backup protection from one solution to the next. A cybersecurity risk assessment will help you understand all of your vulnerabilities and gaps.
5. Minimum Monthly Updates
Lastly, keep your systems updated. Just as you keep up with the latest dental techniques, software updates often contain patches to address security vulnerabilities which will reduce the likelihood of cyber-attacks. Even brand-new computers need updating. Since this is a time-consuming task, consider investing in a cybersecurity suite that provides continuous protection and uses automation to keep security patches monitored and updated.
October may be National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, but in our rapidly evolving digital landscape, every month needs to be cybersecurity awareness month. Treat cybersecurity with the same diligence as oral hygiene in your practice. As we all know, prevention is better than cure!
Embrace the spirit of Cybersecurity Awareness Month by taking proactive steps to protect your digital assets. We can’t eliminate all risks, but with awareness, preparedness, and vigilance, we can significantly minimize them—ensuring that practices run smoothly and securely, leaving us free to focus on what we do best—caring for patients.
Anne Genge, Certified Information Privacy Professional, Certified Healthcare Cybersecurity Professional, Certified Healthcare Security Risk Assessment Specialist. Anne is the founder of Myla Training Co., Canada’s first-ever online privacy and cybersecurity training platform for dental professionals. With over two decades of experience, Anne has become a leading expert and trainer in this field. Anne collaborates closely with practice owners, managers, dental teams, and IT providers to ensure the safety of patients and practice data while enabling compliance with privacy regulations.