Why Employee Password Practices Might Be Your Security Missing Link
By Michael Greene, CEO, Enzoic.
With the healthcare sector a top target of hackers, cybersecurity and privacy are of paramount concern—so much so that HIMSS20 has dedicated an entire track to the topic. According to its description, “Every organization must respect and maintain the privacy and security of patient information, no matter how small or large and no matter where they are located.”
While cybersecurity is clearly a primary area of focus, the frequency of attacks on healthcare institutions is on the rise—the HIPAA Journal found that the equivalent of 50% of the U.S. population has been affected by data breaches over the past decade. While there are several reasons healthcare institutions continue to fall prey to attacks, one of the most common ones may surprise you: employee password reuse and password sharing.
Risk Rises with Password Reuse
Most healthcare workers know better than to reuse passwords across multiple sites and applications. Still, this security best practice is often overlooked in the name of convenience and the urgency associated with providing high-quality care. However, password reuse puts the entire organization at risk when an unrelated third party is breached, as cybercriminals can easily obtain breached or leaked credentials via the Dark Web and use them against other online accounts or systems.
With breaches occurring on a daily basis, hackers can select from an unlimited supply of newly compromised passwords. If even just a handful of your employees reuse passwords across applications and accounts, it won’t be long before hackers leverage this password faux-pas for their own advantage. And if your organization is anything like the average company, it’s likely that password reuse is also pervasive. According to Google, at least 65% of people use the same password for multiple, if not all, sites and systems.
Password Sharing Increases Vulnerabilities
When every second counts in administering critical care, the last thing hospital staff have time for is issues with login. For this reason, many healthcare workers will share credentials, with 74% of respondents in one study admitting they had obtained a colleague’s password. The researchers state, “Apart from…large-scale mistakes and malicious acts… one of the most common breaches of PHI is the use of another’s credentials to access patient information, i.e., the use of the EMR password of one medical staff member by another.”
It’s easy to understand why healthcare workers would default to this practice, but it’s equally easy to visualize how password sharing substantially increases security vulnerabilities.
With threats inherent in everything from:
- How the password is initially shared (i.e. is it stored in multiple email accounts?)
- What else individual staff members may use it for (e. is it being reused for other work and/or personal accounts?)
- What is the staff turnover (e. what happens if a disgruntled former employee can still access company systems?)
It’s evident that hospitals cannot afford the risks associated with password sharing.