Assisted living centers were hit hard by COVID-19 earlier this year, becoming a quasi-epicenter for the coronavirus’s initial outbreak in the United States this past spring. This made it challenging and near impossible for residents to see visitors, such as friends and family. Fortunately, wireless technologies, social media, and virtual assistants have made it possible and easily accessible for residents to stay in touch. However, with an increase in advanced technology comes a rise in potential cyberattack risks. If not adequately managed, cyberattacks can harm unsuspecting residents who lack the necessary awareness around cybersecurity. If an assisted living center’s IT infrastructure isn’t appropriately secured, hackers can infiltrate networks and access residents’ sensitive information. 

Increased Cyber Risk in Healthcare

There are many different risks that healthcare organizations—including assisted living centers—face. But ransomware is the most dangerous for the healthcare industry. It locks users out of their own data collection networks and stops any activity that requires access to patient data and health information. This kind of data breach can have harmful effects on medical institutions by taking sensitive patient data, medical devices, and even Wi-Fi networks hostage until a ransom is paid.

Between February and March of 2020, the rate of cyberattacks increased by 60 percent in the healthcare industry. Many of these attacks were made possible through phishing attacks that took advantage of assisted living centers and their residents.

To prevent this level of Senior living Cyber risk, assisted living centers can take specific steps and limit exposure while increasing awareness of cyberattacks among residents, their families, and staff.

Here are five steps that can ALF’s can take to protect their residents.

  • Always Be Informed: Human error accounts for nearly one-third of all healthcare data attacks. The first step that ALF’s can do to shore up their security is educating software users, including patients, staff, nurses, doctors, and therapists. This isn’t a one-and-done answer to the issue, as ongoing education and awareness should be the goal to keep everyone informed. ALF’s should hold repeated sessions with users covering what can happen if they are the victims of cyberattacks. These training sessions should hit on what ransomware attacks look like and how to identify and avoid them.
  • Ensure IT Compliance: While it may be challenging to keep residents informed compared to staff, ALF’s should still take steps to educate its seniors. ALF leaders should send out regular emails and reminders about proper security as well as data breaches. An IT framework will guide cyber risk management and serve as resources for further training and education should ALF’s need it. 
  • Always Back Things Up: While cyberattacks continue to evolve, ransomware attacks are the most devastating to assisted living centers and other healthcare organizations. They make it impossible for users to plug into or recover stolen data. It’s vital to ensure all data is backed up regularly. This helps to keep data safe from harm and protect from smaller cybersecurity issues or threats to data storage systems.
  • Consider Insurance: Cyber insurance policies, like those offered from Highland Risk, are designed to cover healthcare organizations’ cybersecurity risks. At the very least, an insurance policy for cybersecurity protection provides peace of mind while also helping ALF’s survive an attack. Everything from dealing with legal fees to paying for data to be restored can be covered with a cybersecurity insurance plan. 
  • Assess Risks: The recent increase in COVID-related attacks is an excellent reminder that cybercrimes change over time. Cyber attackers evolve and adapt to take advantage of vulnerable targets, like ALF’s. This means that protecting against these threats is an ongoing and ever-evolving task that must be an integral part of any operational plan moving forward. Senior living centers must perform regular assessments of their vulnerabilities. Whether they rely on in-house IT staff or work with an outside firm, it’s helpful to conduct these checks at various times throughout the year.

About Highland Risk

At Highland Risk, we use our expertise and experience to provide insurance information and programs to those who serve long-term care and senior living facilities. Since 2007, we’ve been offering insurance and risk management plans designed to help our agents give their clients the ability to achieve continued growth while simultaneously protecting against loss, containing costs and increasing profitability. With three offices to serve you in Chicago, Illinois; Phoenix, Arizona; and Burlington, Connecticut, we do everything we can to make your experience with us as professional and transparent as possible. To learn more, contact us at (877) 890-9301.