Dental Cybersecurity: What Your Practice Needs to Know

March 1, 2024
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Anne Genge

Anne Genge is on a mission to make dentistry safer online. With over two decades of experience, Anne has become a leading expert and trainer in privacy & cybersecurity for dental practices.

In the evolving landscape of digital dentistry, cybersecurity has emerged as a critical pillar of maintaining a trustworthy and secure practice. As dental offices in Canada increasingly rely on digital technologies for patient records, scheduling, and communication, the risk of cyber threats looms larger. Dental cybersecurity is not just about protecting data; it’s about safeguarding the trust and well-being of your patients. This blog post delves into essential cybersecurity best practices tailored for dental practices, underlining why staying informed and vigilant is paramount in today’s digital age.

Understanding Dental Cybersecurity

Dental cybersecurity involves protecting the digital infrastructure of dental practices from unauthorized access, data breaches, and other cyber threats. With the health sector being one of the most targeted by cybercriminals, Canadian dental practices are not exempt from these risks. Current statistics from the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security highlight a growing trend in cyber-attacks targeting healthcare providers, underscoring the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures.

Dental offices face several cyber threats, including ransomware attacks that lock access to patient data, phishing emails that seek to steal credentials, and malware that can cripple practice operations. Understanding these threats is the first step in developing a comprehensive defense strategy.

Best Practices for Enhancing Dental Cybersecurity

Implementing best practices for dental cybersecurity can significantly reduce the risk of cyber incidents, protecting both your practice and your patients’ sensitive information.

Training Your Team

Human error remains one of the largest cybersecurity vulnerabilities in any organization, including dental practices. A recent Stanford University study found that 88% of successful breaches are a result of human error.

The sophistication of cyber-attacks has evolved, making it increasingly difficult for untrained individuals to recognize threats. As such, empowering your team with knowledge and awareness is crucial.

Regular training sessions focused on recognizing phishing attempts, managing passwords, and securely handling patient data will significantly fortify your practice’s first line of defense against cyber threats.

Remember that cybersecurity threats evolve rapidly, and so should your training program. Regular updates and refresher courses ensure that your team stays informed about the latest threats and best practices.

Annual or semi-annual training sessions, combined with periodic updates on emerging threats, and creating a “culture of cybersecurity” will help maintain a high level of vigilance among your staff.

Regularly Update and Patch Systems

Software updates do more than just add new features or improve functionality. They often include critical security patches that address vulnerabilities discovered since the last version was released. Cybercriminals are quick to exploit these vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to systems. By delaying updates, you leave your practice’s digital doors open to attackers.

To ensure your practice remains protected, establish a routine process for checking and applying software updates and patches. This can include:

  • Managed Cybersecurity: Use a managed security provider like Alexio, who use automation, machine learning combined with expert monitoring to ensure security patches and other critical safeguards are continuously protecting your practice.
  • Security Monitoring & Reporting: As with the above recommendation to continuously monitor and protect the systems, ensure you get a daily report showing that security is in place and working for you. This will ensure you keep a high security patching rate (above 95%)
  • Vendor Notifications: Subscribe to notifications from your software vendors to be alerted about new updates or patches as soon as they’re released. Make sure these patches are implemented. A managed security provider will usually be able to monitor and maintain patching for operation systems and most major software automatically, ensuring you are continuously protected.
  • Inventory Management: Keep an inventory of all software and systems in use at your practice. This list should include version numbers and the date of the last update to help track your update history and ensure no system is overlooked.

Implement Strong Password Policies

Weak passwords can easily be breached. Implementing strong password policies, including the use of complex passwords and multi-factor authentication, can significantly enhance your practice’s security posture.

Because it’s crucial to use strong, unique passwords for every single online account, implementing a password manager can help manage this process by securely storing complex passwords for each online account. Let the password app create strong passwords or create strong and unique passwords only you can decipher. Opt for something like “Floss1nj@Sm!le” over “temp123”.”

source: Stolen Passwords in Dentistry

For more information about why unique passwords are critical, watch this video about a tactic used by cyber criminals called “credential stuffing”.

Secure Your Wi-Fi Network

An unsecured Wi-Fi network is an open invitation to cybercriminals. Ensure your network is encrypted, hidden, and protected with a strong password. Additionally, consider setting up a separate network for patients to prevent access to your practice’s operational network.

Backup and Encrypt Patient Data

Regular backups ensure that you can restore patient data in case of a cyber incident. Encrypting this data adds an additional layer of security, making it unreadable to unauthorized individuals.

Regular backups act as a safety net, ensuring that you can restore patient data swiftly in the event of data loss, whether due to a cyberattack, system failure, or natural disaster. This redundancy is crucial for minimizing downtime and maintaining patient trust. The best practice is to follow the 3-2-1 backup rule: keep at least three copies of your data, store two backup copies on different storage media, and keep one of them offsite.

For most dental practices traditional backup is inadequate because it does not provide a quick enough recovery, and often there is too much data lost. Newer technologies like Alexio 2nd Server for example, provide backup, disaster recover, and ensure business continuity (little or no downtime) through almost any disaster.

Best Practices for Managing Backups and Encryption:

Regularly Update Encryption Keys: Just as you regularly update passwords, periodically changing encryption keys adds an additional layer of security.
Access Controls: Implement strict access controls to ensure that only authorized personnel can access patient data and backup systems. This minimizes the risk of internal threats and accidental breaches.
Compliance with Regulations: Ensure that your backup and encryption practices comply with relevant regulations, such as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in Canada. Compliance not only protects patient data but also shields your practice from legal repercussions.

Stay Informed About the Latest Threats

Cyber threats evolve rapidly. Staying informed about the latest threats and cybersecurity trends can help you adapt your strategies proactively.

Myla Moments is a monthly learning resource that we send to our subscribers to help them stay on top of current cybersecurity issues. Additionally, follow me on LinkedIn where I post daily relevant content for cybersecurity alerts, upcoming seminars, dental practice management advice, and other learning content.

The Continuous Journey of Dental Cybersecurity

Beyond specific training sessions, fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness within your dental practice is vital. Encourage open discussions about cybersecurity, share updates on new threats, and create a supportive environment where team members feel comfortable reporting potential security issues.

Navigating the complexities of dental cybersecurity may seem daunting, but it is an essential aspect of modern dental practice management. By implementing these best practices and fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness within your team, you can significantly mitigate risks and protect your practice from cyber threats.

Dental cybersecurity is an ongoing journey, not a destination. As technology advances and cyber threats evolve, so too must our strategies for protecting our practices and patients. Remember, in the realm of cybersecurity, knowledge is not just power—it’s protection.

For more in-depth training tailored specifically for dental teams in Canada, consider exploring programs like “Cybersecurity Essentials for Dental Teams” offered by Ensure the safety and security of your practice and the patients who trust you with their care.

Together we can make dentistry safer online.

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Cybersecurity Essentials for Dental Teams

Cybersecurity awareness training that provides dental professionals with the skills needed to prevent breaches, ransomware, and data theft at work (and at home). Get immediate access and complete training in less than 40 minutes.
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