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Protecting Your Practice (and Patient) Data from Cyber Threats

As a GP Practice Manager, you are responsible for the security of your patients' data and the integrity of your practice's IT systems.

Cybersecurity threats are a growing concern for all organisations, but they are especially concerning for healthcare organisations, which hold sensitive patient data.

Here are a few case studies of cybersecurity threats to GP practices:

  • In 2019, a GP practice was hit by a ransomware attack. The attackers encrypted the practice's data and demanded a ransom payment. The practice was forced to pay the ransom in order to regain access to its data.
  • In 2020, a GP practice in Australia was targeted by a phishing attack. The attackers sent emails to staff that appeared to be from the Australian government. The emails contained malicious links that, when clicked, downloaded malware onto the staff's computers. The malware then stole the practice's patient data.
  • In 2021, a GP practice in the US was hacked by a group of cyber criminals. The hackers stole the personal information of over 100,000 patients. The stolen information included names, addresses, birth dates, and Social Security numbers.

It is important for GP Practice Managers to be aware of these threats and to take steps to protect their practices.

Why GP Practice Managers Should Be Vigilant and Informed About Cybersecurity Threats

GP practices are a prime target for cyber criminals. Cyber criminals know that GP practices hold valuable patient data, such as names, addresses, birth dates, and medical records. This data can be used for identity theft, medical fraud, and other crimes.

Cyber-attacks can have a devastating impact on GP practices. A cyber-attack can disrupt patient care, damage the practice's reputation, and lead to financial losses. In some cases, cyber-attacks can even force GP practices to close their doors.

Cyber threats are constantly evolving. Cyber criminals are always developing new ways to attack organisations. It is important for GP Practice Managers to stay up-to-date on the latest cybersecurity threats and trends so that they can take steps to protect their practices.

The Importance of Good Data Security Methods for GP Practice Staff

GP practice staff play a vital role in protecting patient data. By following good data security practices, staff can help to reduce the risk of a cyber-attack and keep patient data safe.

Some important data security practices for GP practice staff include:

  • Using strong passwords and enabling multi-factor authentication. Strong passwords are at least 12 characters long and include a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to enter a code from their phone in addition to their password when logging in.
  • Being careful about what emails and attachments they open. Phishing emails are a common way for cyber criminals to gain access to computer systems. Staff should be suspicious of unsolicited emails and never open attachments from unknown senders.
  • Reporting suspicious activity to their IT department. If staff see anything suspicious on their computer, such as a strange email or a program that they do not recognise, they should report it to their IT department immediately.

How GP Practice Managers Can Protect Their Practices from Cyber Threats

  • Implement a cybersecurity policy. A cybersecurity policy should outline the practice's security procedures and staff's responsibilities. (FPM members can access our Policy Library here).
  • Educate staff about cybersecurity. Staff should be trained on how to recognise cyber threats and how to protect the practice's data.
  • Keep software up to date. Software updates often include security patches that can help to protect against known vulnerabilities.
  • Use strong passwords and enable multi-factor authentication. This should be required for all staff and systems.
  • Back up data regularly. This will give the practice something to restore from if it is hit by a cyber-attack.
  • Implement security solutions. This could include firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and endpoint security solutions.
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