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Cyber attacks in dentistry

ADA Warns Dentists: Beware of Cyber Attacks

With every passing day, dentists all across the industry are incorporating more and more technology into their practice.

From upgraded software all the way to lasers, dental technology continues to power the industry. 

These days, you can even create virtual models of your patients’ mouths with tools like intraoral scanners

In fact, the demand for such high-tech dental equipment is expected to grow substantially in the upcoming years. 

To put it simply, dentists are changing with the future. 

However, with the rewards of technology comes dangers as well.

Just recently, the American Dental Association (ADA) issued a warning to dentists everywhere: Stay alert for internet risks and cyber attacks.

Common Uses, Common Problems

Whether you consider your office technologically advanced or not, you probably store patients’ information on computers.

When you run a busy practice, it’s important to keep track of visits, procedures, payments, and much more.

 Without that information, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Paper files and folders just don’t cut it any longer.

Now, you’re connected to the internet with more digital information than ever before. 

However, with convenience comes risks. Namely, cyber attacks, in the form of data theft, ransomware, malware, and more.

And, in light of current world events, the ADA warns dentists: it’s a threat on the rise.

Think nobody’s interested in attacking your dental practice?

You might need to rethink your stance.

Criminals aren’t necessarily after you.

They’re after your reputation.

Cyber Attacks Strike Dentists

In late March 2021, cyber-criminals accessed the information of 125,760 dental patients.

Using a phishing scheme, they comprised the email addresses of members of North American Dental Management (NADM).

Essentially, phishing is when someone poses as a legitimate contact, in an attempt to lure you into giving up valuable information.

They’re after anything they can get – passwords, email addresses, even banking or credit card details.

Often, these ‘phishers’ provide links which appear trustworthy, but end up causing serious damage for those unlucky enough to click.

This was how cybercriminals gained access to the email addresses of NADM members.

While cybercriminals aren’t exactly interested in dental records, there’s a lot more at stake.

HIPAA laws require you to protect patient data, and if it’s exposed, you could be on the line for damages and penalties, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars per infraction.

And that’s even before criminals try to extort you for ransom to unlock your data.

Always remember, it’s your absolute responsibility to protect your patients’ information.

Don’t think of it as protecting your data.

Think of it as protecting your reputation.

ADA Warning

Though normally advising on things like legal or health advice, the ADA is now turning its attention to cyber attacks on dentists.

They offer several tactics to immediately help prevent the compromise of your office’s sensitive information.

First, consider multi-factor authentication for remote logins.

This involves setting up a two-step verification with your email address. Gmail (and most other email providers) provides the option to have a verification code sent your mobile phones after a password is used to login.

Also, the ADA warns dentists to utilize antivirus and antimalware programs as a first step in spotting major issues.

Further, the ADA warns dentists to stay up-to-date with all of your software and hardware updates.

Though most programs automatically do this, it’s important not to give in to the “Remind me later,” option.

Combat Phishing, Back-up Data

Phishing attacks pose one of the biggest threats to your dental office.

Just how dangerous are they?

Well, phishing accounts for 80% of reported security incidents and as much as 94% of all malware delivery.

As you can see, it’s one of the most common ways crooks enter your systems.

Thankfully though, with a few minor precautions, phishing scams are easy to spot and prevent.

By setting up your email filters properly, the majority of bad emails are safely blocked or sent to a spam folder.

For those that aren’t caught automatically, you’ll need to use a little more caution.

Avoid opening emails from unknown senders, and if you do, never click on suspicious links (that’s normally when the damage is done).

By simply hovering your mouse cursor over a link, you’ll usually see the address displayed. Often, scammers try to duplicate legitimate websites – so you’ll need to use discretion.

“Amazinzon.com,” for example, looks similar to a real company – but don’t let it fool you. It’s a scam.

But what happens if something does go wrong?

For that, the best thing you can do is create frequent backups of your data for emergency situations.

If you lose access to crucial information, a backup drive of saved files guarantees you’ll be able to restore order.

 

Communicating with Others 

A final consideration is communication between you and your employees.

Sharing these strategies with your team helps eliminate any weak links in your dental office.

When your team is protected, your patients’ information is as well.  

And, if you ever think your office’s information is compromised, reach out to a technical professional for help and guidance.

Different aids will be available in different regions.

In the case of the NADM compromise, the Pittsburgh-based Professional Dental Alliance was able to help get things back on track after the attack.

 The Takeaways

Technology is absolutely changing dental practices for the better.

It makes treatments smoother, faster, and more efficient.

But, it’s important not to get caught in the lights and glamor new methods. 

Always apply the latest security patches when they become available, be wary of suspicious emails, and back up your data as much as possible.

And, always make sure you and your team are on the same page when it comes to security.

After all, it’s not just your patients’ information on the line.

It’s your reputation.

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