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Security Survey: 24 Percent of Physicians Fail to Identify Phishing Emails

February 5, 2018
by Heather Landi
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A recent survey found that doctors were three times worse at identifying phishing emails than their non-physician counterparts, such office workers (24 percent compared to 8 percent). What’s more, 8 in 10 healthcare employees aren’t prepared to protect against common privacy and security threats., according to a survey from MediaPro, a security awareness and compliance training company.

MediaPro released its Healthcare Industry Insights report on the state of privacy and security awareness in order to gauge the average healthcare employee’s knowledge of cybersecurity and data privacy best practices. For the report, MediaPro surveyed 1,009 healthcare employees.

Overall, 78 percent of healthcare employees showed at least some lack of preparedness (scoring “risks” or novices”) to handle the common privacy and security threat scenarios that were presented, compared to 70 percent of employees sampled across all industries, according to the report.

Within healthcare, 37 percent of employees fall into the “risk” category, meaning they could put their organizations at serious risk for a privacy or security incident, and 41 percent fall into the “novice” category, meaning they have a good understanding of the basics, but could stand to learn more. Less than one-fourth (22 percent) of healthcare employees overall scored in the “hero” category, meaning they showed a strong understanding of security and privacy best practices.

What’s more, 24 percent of physicians and other types of direct healthcare providers showed a lack of awareness toward phishing emails, compared with 8 percent of their non-provider counterparts, such as office workers. Half of physicians scored in the “risk” category, meaning their actions could put their organizations at serious threat of a privacy or security incident.

The survey also found that almost double the amount of healthcare employees (24 percent) had trouble identifying a handful of common signs of malware, compared with the respondents in the general population (12 percent) based on a previous, broader survey that MediaPro conducted.

The survey gauged healthcare employees’ awareness of specific threat vectors and how many employees chose incorrect or risky behaviors regarding those threat vectors. Looking at incident reporting, 23 percent of respondents failed to report a variety of potential security or privacy incidents, including unsecured personnel files and potentially malware-infected computers. What’s more, 21 percent of respondents failed to recognize some forms of personally identifiable information. The survey found that doctors and other care providers showed riskier behaviors in this category than did their non-physician counterparts.

With regard to physical security, 30 percent of respondents took unnecessary risks in scenarios related to allowing others access to their office buildings. Specifically, a quarter of respondents said they would simply hold their office door open for a maintenance worker asking for access rather than telling him to wait while his identify was confirmed.

Eighteen percent of employees identified phishing emails as legitimate ones, compared to only 8 percent of the general population. The most mis-identified email of the four examples presented was an email from a suspicious “from” address containing an image attachment, according to the survey. What’s more, as noted above, doctors were three times worse at identifying phishing emails than their non-physician counterparts (24 percent compared to 8 percent).

The survey also gauged employees’ ability to identify malware warnings signs and found that 23 percent of respondents failed to recognize common signs of a malware-infected computer, compared to only 12 percent of the general population. For example, 19 percent of employees failed to recognize that their internet browser repeatedly sending them to the same site, no matter which URL was entered, is likely a sign of malware.

And, almost a quarter (24 percent) of healthcare employees chose risky options when asked about mobile computing or working remotely. Specifically, 26 percent of respondents chose to log on to an unprotected, public Wi-Fi network to complete work tasks, despite the danger it presents. The survey also found that 18 percent of respondents chose risk actions when presented with scenarios involving storing company data or files on personal cloud-based storage or sending work documents via personal email.

Almost one-third of healthcare respondents (30 percent) said they’d take potentially risky actions related to their company on social media, such as re-posting a coworker’s inappropriate social post about a competitor.

The report writers concluded that beyond training geared toward HIPAA compliance, healthcare vemployees need a comprehensive approach to awareness education that includes security and privacy awareness.

“The results of our survey show that more work needs to be done in this regard.  HIPAA courses often do not include information on how to stay cyber-secure in an increasingly interconnected world. Keeping within HIPAA regulations, while vital, does not educate users on how to spot a phishing attack, for example. Additionally, mere compliance does not equate to a fully security-aware culture,” the report authors wrote, noting that multi-faceted and integrated awareness programs are needed to ensure the whole employee population knows the importance of sound security principles.



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