Healthcare Technology Featured Article

August 15, 2023

The Hidden Risk of Insider Threat in Healthcare

Our lives depend on the healthcare sector, but as it becomes more digitalized and dependent on technology, there is an increased danger of data breaches and insider threats. Protecting patient data from unauthorized access, cyber threats, and data breaches is essential. The healthcare sector's emphasis on patient care and privacy frequently overshadows the underreported risk of insider threats. While external hacks attract a lot of attention, it is essential to acknowledge the potential harm insiders with permission to access sensitive healthcare data might create. This blog clarifies the potential risk of insider threats in the healthcare industry, including their causes, patterns of occurrence, and possible effects on patient safety, data privacy, and organizational reputation.

Motivations Behind Insider Threats

Knowing what causes people to become insider threats is essential for spotting possible dangers and putting the proper preventive measures in place. Several frequent causes are as follows:

  • Financial Gain: Employees may be motivated by financial incentives and look to use healthcare data for their financial advantage. This may entail using medical fraud schemes or peddling patient data on the underground market.
  • Revenge or Retaliation: Disgruntled workers who are unhappy at work or having problems may avenge themselves by purposely harming patients, leaking private information, or interfering with medical procedures.
  • Curiosity or Carelessness: Insiders can mistakenly reveal critical information out of carelessness or curiosity. This may entail transmitting private information over unsafe channels or gaining unauthorized access to patient records.

Types of Insider Threat Incidents

In healthcare, insider threat occurrences can take many different forms, each of which poses specific dangers to patient safety and data privacy. According to the Ponemon Institute’s 2020 Insider Threats Report, malicious insiders make up 14% of insider threat incidents, negligent insiders make up 61%, and negligent insiders make up 25%.

  • Unauthorized Access: Insiders may abuse their rights to authorized access to get access to patient records without authorisation, particularly those containing personal information, medical information, or financial information. This may result in fraud, identity theft, or other nefarious actions.
  • Data Exfiltration or Theft: Insiders may purposefully steal patient data for their purposes or to resell on the black market. Patients may suffer financial loss, the healthcare organization may suffer reputational harm, and patient treatment may be jeopardized due to this data breach.
  • Data manipulation: People with insider access to healthcare systems can change test results, treatment plans, or prescription dosages in patient records. Such behaviours may result in incorrect diagnoses, improper treatments, or postponed interventions, which can seriously affect patient safety.
  • System Sabotage: Unsavoury insiders may deliberately interrupt patient care or essential operations by sabotaging healthcare systems. This may entail making unauthorized changes to medical equipment, turning off security features, or interfering with network infrastructure.

Impact on Patient Safety and Data Privacy

Insider threats in the healthcare industry can significantly affect patient safety and data privacy.

  • Compromised Patient Care: Insiders manipulating patient records or medical equipment may directly impact patient safety, which could result in inaccurate diagnoses, delayed interventions, or inappropriate therapies. Patient confidence in the healthcare system may also deteriorate, impacting final medical results.
  • Data Privacy Breach: Individuals with insider access to confidential patient information may violate patient privacy, infringing on legal and moral obligations. Unauthorized access to patients' personal health information may result in identity theft, medical fraud, or societal disgrace.
  • Legal and Regulatory Consequences: Healthcare organizations that fail to safeguard patient information from insider threats could suffer severe legal and regulatory ramifications. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations, for example, can lead to hefty fines, a tarnished reputation, and a loss of public trust.

Preventive Measures for Insider Threats

Organizations should implement a complete package of preventive measures to reduce the risks posed by insider threats in the healthcare industry.

  • Employee screening and education: Background checks that are in-depth and ongoing employment screening procedures aid in identifying people who may exhibit high-risk behaviour. Furthermore, thorough training on data privacy, security best practices, and the repercussions of insider threats increases employee awareness and aids in developing a security culture.
  • Least Privilege Access: By putting the principle of least privilege into practice, employers may guarantee that staff members only have access to the data they need to do their jobs. Regular access audits and applicable access restrictions lower the possibility of unauthorized data access.
  • Monitoring and Auditing: Powerful monitoring tools, such as log analysis and user activity monitoring, can assist in identifying suspicious behaviour or variations from regular patterns. Regular audits of user behaviour and system logs improve accountability and enable prompt response. Businesses should implement data loss prevention solutions to detect unusual data loss activity.
  • Incident Response Planning: By creating a thorough incident response plan tailored to insider threats, healthcare organizations are better equipped to act quickly and decisively in the event of an incident. Roles, communication methods, and protocols for maintaining evidence and pursuing legal action are all included in this.

Building a Culture of Security

To counteract insider threats in healthcare, it is crucial to foster a culture of security by:

  • Leadership Commitment: The leadership should commit to data security by investing adequate funds, raising awareness, and setting a good example.
  • Continuous Monitoring and Improvement: Testing, security audits, and assessments regularly assist in finding weaknesses and potential areas for development. Security measures should be continuously monitored to maintain their effectiveness against new threats.
  • Reporting and Whistleblower Protection: By creating channels for staff to report suspicious activity and offering whistleblower protection measures, possible internal threats can be identified and reported early.


Insider threats seriously threaten patient safety, data privacy, and the reputation of healthcare organizations. To put preventative measures into place and create a robust security framework, it is essential to understand the causes and types of insider events. Organizations may safeguard patient data, uphold trust, and remain committed to delivering high-quality healthcare services while reducing the covert risk of insider threats in the healthcare sector by taking a proactive approach to insider threat identification.

About the Author:  Mosopefoluwa is a certified Cybersecurity Analyst and Technical writer. She worked as a Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst, creating relevant cybersecurity content for organizations and spreading security awareness. Volunteering as an Opportunities and Resources Writer with a Nigerian based NGO she curated weekly opportunities for women. She is also a regular writer at Bora.

Her other interests are law, volunteering and women’s rights. In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the beach, watching movies or burying herself in a book.
Connect with her on 
LinkedIn and Instagram

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