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Top Cybersecurity Health Care Threats

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Mar 1, 2024
A Cybersecurity Professional Shows a Physician How to Access a Secure Laptop.

Top Cybersecurity Health Care Threats

The health care industry has seen significant advances in the digital age, incorporating elements of digital infrastructure such as telehealth and the use of artificial intelligence to develop unique medications to fit individual patients’ needs. However, with increases in digitization has come an increase in cyber attacks, which can threaten the efficiency and stability of health care facilities through financial losses and harm to patients through stolen medical information.

According to a 2022 report by Check Point Research, health care organizations saw a 60% increase in cyber attacks over the previous year. The wide array of connected medical devices that give hackers more opportunities to access secure data, the value of confidential patient information on digital black markets, and the sums involved in holding organizations’ systems for ransom all make health care organizations enticing targets for hackers.

Cybersecurity health care threats are real, but cybersecurity professionals help keep these threats at bay, both by preventing them in the first place and by resolving them without giving in to costly demands. Cybersecurity professionals interested in working in the health care sector should consider how earning an advanced degree in cybersecurity can help them identify and address these threats, allowing them to ensure health care organizations’ operations and patients remain safe.

What Is Cybersecurity in Health Care?

Cybersecurity breaches can range in severity depending on the data that is corrupted or stolen. In health care, nearly all of the information available is sensitive, including protected patient health records, financial information such as credit card and Social Security numbers, and classified medical research. Hackers can also halt a health care organization’s normal operations, preventing patients from receiving critical care.

Health care cybersecurity  professionals focus on preventing these breaches. They rigorously test their organizations’ defenses using techniques such as penetration testing, in which specialists attempt to break into and test the limits of their own systems to find where vulnerabilities lie. Once they identify potential risks, they can create patches to repair them or develop replacement systems with more advanced security measures. 

Cybersecurity specialists can train employees on protocols, helping to prevent accidents that can allow hackers to access the organization’s systems. These protocols include avoiding accessing confidential files on an unsafe network, clicking links in suspicious emails, and leaving technology like laptops in areas where they can be stolen. 

Cybersecurity specialists are also responsible for developing response plans to be used when their defenses falter and hackers are able to enter the system. By preparing response plans in advance, organizations are more likely to be able to remove malicious actors from their systems quickly, lessening the impact of delayed patient care and preventing any information from being held for ransom.

Cyber Threats in Health Care

For cybersecurity in health care to be most effective, cybersecurity professionals need to establish a solid defense against hackers. They must understand the evolving threats they face and the emerging techniques devised to combat them. Pursuing continuing education by earning an advanced degree or gaining a specialized certification can help professionals monitor the latest developments in the field, such as advancements in cybersecurity and AI technology.

Here are some threats that cybersecurity specialists are likely to encounter in the health care industry:


Phishing is the act of infecting a system or network through a malicious application or web link that is included in a seemingly harmless email. Hackers make these emails appear legitimate by incorporating authentic insignias and logos, forging the credentials of real health care professionals, and giving the email the appearance of being part of a chain involving multiple professionals. 

Once a malicious link has been followed, a hacker can easily access the infected device, and by mimicking the user’s credentials, infect other devices and systems on the same network. Cybersecurity professionals can use a number of techniques to attempt to prevent these attacks from succeeding, such as informing individual users of proper protocols for responding to and interacting with emails, explaining to them signs of potential phishing attempts, and limiting unrestricted access to systems to weed out users who don’t need to have access.


Ransomware is malicious code that infects a network or system and blocks access to or encrypts the system’s data until a ransom is paid. Phishing attempts are often used to inject ransomware into sensitive systems. Ransomware is highly prevalent in the health care industry, with a 2021 report from Sophos showing that 1 in 3 health care organizations were hit by this type of cyber attack in the previous year.

Ransomware allows critical systems and information to be encrypted for as long as the hackers wish, potentially preventing the organization from providing care. Additionally, even if a ransom is paid, there is no guarantee that hackers will remove the encryption. By constantly testing a system for vulnerabilities through penetration testing, establishing an attack surface monitor that continuously checks for vulnerabilities, and creating backups of key data, these attacks can be prevented or mitigated.

Data Breaches

A data breach occurs when a hacker infiltrates a health care system and steals data. This data can contain personal information used for fraud, such as Social Security numbers and addresses, or financial information, like bank account numbers. As this information is often hosted on legacy systems that aren’t supported by the original software manufacturers, hackers can easily identify prime hacking opportunities.

Protect Patient Care With Cybersecurity

Due to health care organizations’ need to provide uninterrupted care to patients, the opportunities for hackers to access their systems via multiple points of entry, and the value of their confidential data, health care cybersecurity threats remain a critical issue. To meet these threats, cybersecurity specialists need a solid foundation in the principles of networking, security, and cryptography. 

The University of Tulsa’s online M.S. in Cyber Security program offers a curriculum that covers topics such as network security, access control, user authentication techniques, and data encryption, all of which are crucial in health care environments. And since TU’s program is 100% online, you can develop the skills needed for a successful cybersecurity career at your own pace from any location. 

Find out how The University of Tulsa can help you advance your career in health care cybersecurity in as little as 20 months.

Recommended Readings

Cybersecurity Defense Strategies: The Role of Cybersecurity in National Security

Cybersecurity Ethics: Why It’s Important

The Benefits of Earning Cybersecurity Certification


Center for Internet Security, Cyber Attacks: In the Healthcare Sector

Check Point Software, “Cyberattacks on the Healthcare Sector”

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Healthcare and Public Health Sector

Forbes, “Healthcare Cybersecurity Specialists Will Face Unprecedented Demand in the Coming Years”

Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, “Cybersecurity in Healthcare”

Sophos, “The State of Ransomware in Healthcare 2021”

UpGuard, “Biggest Cyber Threats in Healthcare (Updated for 2023)”

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