Dental practices must handle and store vast amounts of sensitive data, from patient medical records to employee files. Protecting this information is not only an ethical responsibility, but it is also legally required to remain compliant with HIPAA and avoid potential lawsuits. In today’s cybersecurity landscape, where health care is among the most targeted industries for attacks, it’s crucial to ensure that your office can effectively safeguard its sensitive data from any would-be hacker. But this is easier said than done.
A cyberattack is problematic for any health care company, but larger facilities with considerable resources and fortified IT infrastructure can typically react and remediate the issue should catastrophe strike. Dental practices, on the other hand, generally store the same amount of sensitive information, but operate in digital environments that are smaller and less secure. To help ensure the safety of your patient’s private information, you can implement a zero-trust policy.
What is Zero Trust?
Zero trust is a strategic approach to cybersecurity in which an organization (in this case, your dental practice) continuously authenticates, authorizes and validates every network user before granting them access to software, systems or data. To put it simply, “never trust, always verify.”
Prior to adopting the zero-trust mindset, organizations would attempt to fortify their networks against outside users with layers of cybersecurity defenses. There was an implicit — and, in retrospect, naive — level of trust for every device left inside of the network. Now, with cloud systems and tools transferring data off-premises, it can be difficult for organizations to ensure security across their hybrid environments.
The zero-trust framework is designed to protect your practice’s data and networks from potential bad actors by dismissing the assumption that all users within your network are inherently safe. However, it’s not as straightforward as checking each device and its activity. Adopting and implementing a zero-trust policy involves various preventive measures and requires complete visibility and control over your digital environment.
How Does Zero Trust Work?
The core concept of a zero-trust policy is to assume that everyone is hostile from the start, even if they’re already in your network. If, for instance, a dental assistant wants to access a patient’s charts, they will have to validate their identity through multi-factor authentication. This can mean typing in a password along with an SMS security code or fingerprint scan. Once the system has authenticated the dental assistant, they are then authorized to access the necessary information.
Three Core Principles of Zero Trust
To help your practice develop its cybersecurity policies, here are the three core principles at the heart of the zero trust framework, as outlined by the U.S. National Security Administration:
- Trust no one and always verify: Assume that every user, device, application and data flow is untrustworthy. Authenticate each individually and authorize according to the principles of least privilege (POLP).
- Assume there is an exposure: Operate your network as if there was a known threat actor in the environment. This means monitoring, inspecting and heavily scrutinizing all activity and denying requests for access.
- Restrict access to all resources: Limit access to all resources in a consistent and secure manner by using multi-factor authentication and other security attributes to make contextual authorization decisions.
Today’s dental practices often rely on a hybrid of on-premise and cloud environments to store and handle sensitive patient data, such as medical records and personally identifiable information (PII). This, coupled with the fact that dental offices tend to have insufficient network security, makes them a prime target for malicious actors aiming to steal confidential data to sell on the dark web. While no cybersecurity tool will ever completely eliminate breaches, hacks or exposures, zero trust has proven to be an effective strategy for modern dental offices undergoing digital transformation by allowing them to: