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Mitigating Insider Threats: How to Foster a Cybersecurity Culture in Veterinary Practices

By March 20, 2023February 16th, 2024No Comments

When it comes to cybersecurity threats, most veterinary practices focus on external threats such as hackers, malware, ransomware, and other types of threats that arise from the actions of external actors. Unfortunately, the overemphasis on external factors ignores one important type of threat, which research has consistently shown accounts for almost a third of all cybersecurity compromises, insider threats.

According to a 2021 report by Verizon, insider threats account for 30% of all data breaches in the healthcare sector. Veterinary practices are especially vulnerable to insider threats because they often have limited IT resources and staff training on cybersecurity best practices.

What are insider threats?

Insider threats are malicious or negligent actions by employees or other authorized users that compromise the security of the practice’s data, systems, or network. These actions can include stealing confidential information, sabotaging equipment, installing unauthorized software, or sharing passwords.

In the context of veterinary practices, insider threats can have a significant impact on the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information related to clients, patients, and business operations. Veterinary practices handle sensitive data such as medical records, prescription information, and payment details, which, if not handled properly by staff or other authorized users, can fall into the wrong hands, resulting in cybersecurity compromises.

Mitigating Insider Threats

Mitigating insider threats is not a simple task that can be accomplished by installing software, hiring a cybersecurity expert, or even having the latest technology in your veterinary practice that addresses the most common cyber threats, such as hackers, malware, ransomware, and other types of security compromise. Instead, it requires a holistic and proactive approach that involves people, processes, and technology working together to prevent, detect, and respond to insider threats.

To mitigate insider threats effectively, veterinary practices must create a strong cybersecurity culture that encompasses policies, training, and communication to ensure that all employees and authorized users understand the importance of securing sensitive data.

Here are some key strategies for fostering a cybersecurity culture in veterinary practices:

 

1

Develop a formalized insider threat program

An insider threat program (ITP) is a dedicated team or function that is responsible for defining the scope, goals, roles, responsibilities, and resources for addressing insider threats. An ITP should have senior management support and oversight, as well as cross-functional collaboration among different stakeholders such as human resources, legal counsel, physical security, information technology, information security, data owners, and software engineers. An ITP should also establish clear policies and procedures for reporting and handling insider incidents; conduct regular risk assessments and audits; provide training and awareness programs; and measure and evaluate the effectiveness of its activities.
2

Know and protect your critical assets

Critical assets are those data, systems, or network elements that are most valuable and vulnerable to insider attacks. Veterinary practices handle sensitive data such as medical records, prescription information, payment details, etc., which can be stolen or misused by insiders for personal gain or malicious intent. To protect your critical assets from unauthorized access or misuse, you should implement appropriate security controls such as encryption, access control lists, logging and auditing mechanisms, backup and recovery procedures, etc. You should also identify who has access to your critical assets; monitor their actions; revoke their access when no longer needed; and report any anomalies or violations.
3

Conduct Regular Training

Provide employees with regular cybersecurity training to increase awareness of potential insider threats and the appropriate handling of sensitive data. This training should cover topics like identifying phishing emails, proper data disposal, and safe internet browsing habits. Reinforce the importance of following cybersecurity best practices and promote a culture of vigilance and responsibility.
4

Deploy solutions for monitoring employee actions

Monitoring employee actions is essential for detecting anomalous or suspicious behavior patterns that may indicate an insider threat. You should deploy solutions that can collect and analyze data from multiple sources, such as network activity logs, user activity logs, email content analysis, keystroke logging, etc. These solutions can help you identify potential indicators of compromise, such as unusual data transfers; unauthorized access attempts; abnormal login times; changes in work habits; etc. You should also establish a baseline of normal behavior for both networks and employees to facilitate anomaly detection.
5

Clearly document and consistently enforce policies and controls

Policies and controls are rules that define acceptable and unacceptable use of organizational resources. They provide guidance and expectations for employees on how to handle data, systems, and network securely and ethically. They also specify the consequences of violating the policies and controls, such as disciplinary actions, legal actions, or termination of employment. You should clearly document and communicate your policies and controls to all employees and provide them with regular training on cybersecurity best practices. Some of the topics that your policies and controls should cover include data classification, data handling, data retention, data disposal, password management, remote access, social media use, etc
6

Encourage Reporting of Suspicious Activity

Create an environment where employees feel comfortable reporting suspicious behavior or potential security incidents without fear of retaliation. Establish a clear process for reporting such incidents and provide employees with the necessary resources and support to escalate concerns.
7

Promote a Culture of Accountability

Encourage a culture of accountability where employees understand that they have a responsibility to protect sensitive data and follow established cybersecurity policies and procedures. This includes holding employees accountable for their actions and fostering an environment where cybersecurity is a top priority.

In conclusion, as cybersecurity threats continue to evolve, it is crucial for veterinary practices to recognize the often-overlooked danger of insider threats. To properly safeguard their sensitive information and maintain the trust of their clients, they should consider implementing the strategies listed above to effectively mitigate insider threats and foster a strong cybersecurity culture that protects sensitive data and ensures the integrity of their operations.

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