The Hidden Cyber Risks of Digital Dental Practices

February 6, 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 world of dentistry, it’s easy to think that cybercrime is a distant concern, unrelated to the day-to-day operations of treating patients and managing dental health. However, the reality of today’s digital dental practices tells a different story.

The increasing number of cyber threats, including ransomware attacks on notable organizations such as the American Dental Association, Alberta Dental Services, and Henry Schein, underscores the urgent need for heightened cybersecurity measures.

And, As our CEO Anne Genge stated on Global News recently, “With over 1 billion records already for sale on the dark web, these types of attacks can happen to individuals as well as organizations.”

The Growing Threat of Ransomware

Ransomware attacks have become all too common, with numerous dental practices falling victim to cybercriminals who lock data and steal patient records to demand ransom. These incidents highlight the vulnerability of dental practices to cyber threats, leading to significant data loss and, in some cases, the complete shutdown of operations. The case of Woodranch Medical in California, which lost all its data due to inadequate backup strategies, serves as a stark reminder of the potential consequences of neglecting cybersecurity.

And, paying the ransom can’t be a good strategy; “Even when healthcare organizations paid up in the wake of a ransomware attack, on average only 64.8% of their data was restored.” (Globally; Sophos and Sophos Healthcare)

Why Dentists Are Prime Targets for Hackers

Dental practices are treasure troves of valuable information for hackers, including personal and health information, as well as credit card details. This information can be exploited for identity theft, financial fraud, and even blackmail. The comprehensive nature of dental records, often spanning multiple family members and generations, makes them particularly attractive to cybercriminals.

Personal Information at Risk

The extensive personal information collected by dental practices, from contact details to sensitive health data, poses a significant privacy risk. Patients entrust their most private details to their dentists, making the protection of this information paramount.

The Value of Personal Health Information

Beyond basic personal details, dental records contain sensitive health information that could be used for malicious purposes. The potential for blackmail and the exploitation of “guilty secrets” highlight the need for robust security measures to protect patient data.

Credit Card Information: A Gateway to Further Fraud

While credit card information alone may not be highly valuable to hackers, when combined with other patient data, it can be used to commit extensive identity theft and fraud.

The Role of Canadian Privacy Law

Recognizing the risks associated with the collection and storage of personal information, the Canadian government has implemented laws such as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) to safeguard citizens’ data. These laws mandate reasonable security measures to protect against unauthorized access, use, and disclosure of personal information.

The Importance of Being a Good Data Custodian

As technology evolves, so do the tactics of cybercriminals. It is crucial for dental practices to stay ahead of these threats by implementing comprehensive security measures. Companies like Alexio specialize in providing the necessary tools and training to protect patient data from cyber threats, emphasizing the importance of reducing human error, a major factor in data breaches.

Taking Action: Safeguarding Your Practice

One of the quickest and most affordable ways to increase the security of your practice data is to train your team. Basic cybersecurity awareness training, like Myla’s Cybersecurity Essentials for Dental Teams will teach your team to recognize online threats and build their skills to defend your data.

Engaging with cybersecurity experts for assessments, adopting multi-layered security solutions like Alexio Defender Cybersecurity Suite for dental practices, and participating in educational webinars are essential strategies for defending against cyber threats.

The digital landscape of dental practices presents numerous cybersecurity challenges that cannot be ignored. By understanding the risks, complying with privacy laws, and implementing robust security measures, dental practices can protect themselves and their patients from the ever-present threat of cybercrime.

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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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