Podcast: From phishing to vishing, how to protect yourself from today’s cyberthreats

Teresa Duncan
Teresa Duncan.

In today's digital age, the threat of cyberattacks is one that no dental practice should ignore. With hackers becoming increasingly sophisticated, it is crucial for all members of your team to understand the risks and take proactive measures to protect sensitive patient information.

The most recent episode of the “Nobody Told Me That!" podcast featured experts from the California Dental Association (CDA) and The Dentist’s Insurance Company (TDIC). Teresa Pichay is CDA’s senior practice analyst and Colette Johnson is a senior property claims representative for TDIC. They both shared very common attack methods used on dental practices and how you can defend yourself against those who would harm your livelihood.

4 ways to protect your practice from a cyberattack

1. Phishing is the most common method used to carry out a cyberattack.

Phishing, a deceptive technique used by malicious actors, remains the most common method used to carry out a cyberattack on small businesses. Hackers often send fraudulent emails that are disguised as legitimate entities to trick recipients into revealing sensitive information or click on malicious links.

However, phishing is not limited to emails. It can also occur through voice calls (vishing) or text messages (smishing). While these are not terms that we encounter every day, they can cause big problems for your practice.

Our advice: Be vigilant and educate your team about the telltale signs of phishing attempts. Encourage them to scrutinize emails, double-check the sender's address, and avoid clicking on suspicious links. Implement training programs to raise awareness about these cyberthreats, and empower your staff to identify and report any suspicious activities.

2. Implement strong password habits and multifactor authentication.

Password protection is a fundamental aspect of any cybersecurity strategy. To minimize the risk of unauthorized access, ensure that each team member has unique, complex passwords that are changed regularly.

The days of logging in once per day per computer are over. My guests shared stories of employees taking advantage of lax protocols to embezzle and pin blame on fellow employees. Avoid common mistakes, like writing passwords on sticky notes placed around the office.

Additionally, consider implementing multifactor authentication (MFA), which provides an extra layer of security. MFA involves entering a second form of verification, such as a unique code received via email or text message, in addition to a password. This significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access, even if a password is compromised.

3. Stay compliant with HIPAA regulations.

As a dental practice, you handle confidential patient information regularly, making you subject to HIPAA. Staying compliant with HIPAA regulations is not only legally required, but it's also essential for maintaining the trust of your patients.

To ensure HIPAA compliance, implement a comprehensive training program to educate your team about privacy rules and safeguarding patient data. Online training courses offered by reputable organizations like TDIC or CDA can be invaluable resources for your team. Employees will adhere to HIPAA guidelines effectively if they are aware of their responsibilities and the consequences of noncompliance.

4. Prepare for ransomware attacks.

Ransomware attacks, where hackers encrypt and hold your practice's data hostage until a ransom is paid, are increasingly common in the healthcare industry. The cost of recovering from these attacks can be exorbitant, both financially and reputationally.

Take proactive measures to protect your practice, take the following steps:

  • Regularly update your software and operating systems to patch vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.

  • Train your team to identify and report suspicious activities, such as unexpected system slowdowns or file encryption.

  • Keep offline backups of crucial data, ensuring data are isolated from the network to prevent ransomware attacks from spreading.

  • Develop an incident response plan that outlines the steps to mitigate and recover from a ransomware attack.

In today's digital era, it's important to acknowledge the potential threats posed by cyberattacks and take proactive steps to protect your dental practice and your patients' data. By educating your team about common attack methods, implementing strong password habits and MFA, maintaining HIPAA compliance, and preparing for ransomware attacks, you can significantly reduce the risk and limit the damage caused by cyberthreats. 

Remember, cyberthreats are constantly evolving. Regular training and working with trusted information technology professionals are essential for maintaining a secure and successful dental practice. The goal of the podcast is to keep you from saying, “Nobody told me that!” when practice issues arise. Thank you to my guests Teresa Pichay and Colette Johnson for helping to educate my audience about this important issue!

You can click here to listen to the episode, or simply hit the Play button below.

Teresa Duncan’s classes focus on insurance and management issues. She is the author of Moving Your Patients to Yes: Easy Insurance Conversations. Duncan has contributed annually to the ADA’s CDT coding companion guidebooks. Her podcasts "Nobody Told Me That!" and "Chew on This" are resources for dental leaders. Teresa received her master’s degree in healthcare management.

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