All healthcare organizations capture and store sensitive data sets within their IT networks that require extensive protection from unauthorized access or a cyber attack. Unfortunately, many organizations struggle with identifying and safeguarding this information simply because they don’t know what qualifies as sensitive data and where such data is located and stored on their network. Most organizations assume that their IT department is the only group that needs to recognize sensitive data sets. 

However, raising cybersecurity awareness across the entire organization regarding what qualifies as sensitive data, as well as where it can be found within your systems, can help your entire staff identify the controls required to safeguard this information and increase the success of your data classification, retention, and loss prevention efforts. 

How to Recognize the Different Examples of Sensitive Information at Your Healthcare Facility

To safeguard your healthcare infrastructure from a cyber attack or an unauthorized data access incident, it’s critical to understand the different types of information that, when left unprotected, may be inadvertently accessed by non-relevant staff members as well as serve as a digital treasure trove for hackers on a global scale. Some of the most common types of sensitive data include:

Patient Information

Most medical executives recognize that protecting patients’ (aka customers’) personal information from a cyber attack is a top priority. A patient’s personal information may include name, address, birthdate, social security numbers, and even stored credit card details. 

Protected Health Information (PHI)

Safeguarding patients’ protected health information (PHI) remains a paramount concern for healthcare. All healthcare organizations process, transmit, or store patients’ PHI, which includes highly private details about an individual’s health profile, such as demographics, medical history, mental health conditions, testing results, and even insurance coverage information.

Employee Data

While many healthcare organizations prioritize patient data protection, some still overlook the importance of safeguarding their employees’ information as well. Your organization’s stored staff intelligence is similar to its patient information. Employee names, addresses, birthdates, banking information for direct deposit, usernames, credentials, social security numbers, and even passwords are just some of the personal details that a bad actor would find valuable if they were to gain unauthorized access to them. 

Business Information

All organizations, regardless of industry, store a wide range of highly sensitive data sets that, if compromised, could pose a significant impact to the company. Financial records, performance metrics, vendor information, trade secrets, proprietary technology, and even the salaries of your employees are just a few examples of information that warrant protection from unauthorized access and loss.

Increase Cybersecurity Efforts And Data Categorization, Retention and Loss Prevention Efforts

Of course, increasing awareness about the different categories of sensitive information across your organization is only the first step in successfully protecting it from unauthorized access. This should be a recurring subject in your security awareness and training program.  Additionally, if not already in place, your organization also needs a focused effort on establishing policies around data classification, governance, and retention of the organization’s data.

Your IT team must also recognize where this information is stored to develop effective strategies that keep it safeguarded according to its classification, access, and retention requirements.  This may seem like an insurmountable task in our globally connected digital landscape of increasingly sophisticated and complex cyber crimes as well as users who have access to mountains of data. Systematically assessing where your healthcare organization processes, transmits, or stores sensitive information plays a key role in implementing a strategy to prevent unauthorized parties from accessing, or losing control of, the data sets.

Develop Cybersecurity Practices That Include Mobile and Connected Devices 

Most organizations recognize that their internal network is where much of its sensitive data is stored. However, they may not realize that their responsibility to protect patient, organizational, and employee intelligence extends beyond internal systems. Company-issued mobile and connected devices can also hold a diverse and comprehensive range of sensitive data sets that could be compromised during a data breach, or if lost or stolen.

Creating a full inventory of all devices across your organization is the first step to implementing a mobile device management strategy which can help you minimize the threat of a cyber attack on mobile devices that connect to your internal infrastructure.  These strategies implement layers of device management, which include device access controls, managing the user’s ability to store or save data on the device, and the ability to minimize risk and exposure in the event of device loss or theft.

Finally, while most staff members won’t knowingly cause a data compromise, many may share sensitive information simply because they aren’t aware of proper protocol. Make consistent, mandatory employee training a best practice throughout your organization to make sure all personnel understands how to uphold the very highest standards when accessing, transmitting, and storing data. This will move your organization one step closer toward HIPAA compliance and keep your organization’s sensitive data protected.