Assisted Living Facilities and Internet Access: Key Cybersecurity Considerations

Internet access is a part of our daily lives. In today’s connected world, having access to the World Wide Web is critical to retrieve information, keep in touch with friends and family, and to manage daily tasks like paying bills or ordering home goods. Seniors in assisted living facilities typically enjoy internet access, but America’s seniors are often the target of cyber criminals. If residents of a facility are the victims of an internet scam, assisted living facility insurance may not be enough to provide coverage for the loss. Managers of assisted living facilities need to understand key considerations for cybersecurity, helping them to protect both themselves and their residents from unlawful activity.

Cybersecurity Threats to Assisted Living Facilities

Cyber crime is on the rise across the United States, and some of the most vulnerable targets are senior citizens. Criminals prey upon seniors for two primary reasons: seniors tend to have a more trusting nature, and they are less savvy when it comes to protecting their personal information on the Web. Long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities (ALFs) are also prime targets for cyber criminals; these facilities often lack the knowledge and finances to implement robust protections.

The healthcare industry in general is facing an unprecedented level of cyber crime. According to a white paper published by LeadingAge, a leading advocacy group for aging care, nearly 90% of health care organizations experienced at least one unauthorized data breach involving the loss of patient information, and about 45% experienced five or more data breaches. The number of seniors affected by data breaches is unclear, but industry analysts report that in 2018, well over 100,000 people aged 50 or over were the victims of cyber criminality, resulting in losses exceeding $1.4 billion. Common cyber crimes targeting seniors include:

  • Malware attacks
  • Ransomware attacks
  • Social engineering hacks
  • Identity theft
  • Financial scams
  • Privacy violations
  • Email scams

When seniors in an ALF are the victims of a scam or other criminal activity, they may put facility systems at risk. Insufficient safeguards between residents’ personal computing devices and facility computer systems have resulted in millions of dollars in fraud and hundreds of thousands of stolen identities and other personal information. Facilities that experience cyber crime may also run afoul of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and may face significant financial penalties for noncompliance.

Again, assisted living facility insurance may not provide the needed coverage against cyber losses and penalties; specialized cyber insurance policies may be more suitable for long-term care facilities that have experienced data breaches or unlawful computer activity.

Protecting Seniors Against Cyber Crimes

The healthcare industry lags behind many other industries when it comes to cyber security. Within the healthcare sector, long-term care facilities, including ALFs, may be woefully under- or unprepared against cyber criminals. Luckily, there are several measures ALF managers and owners can take to protect the business and the residents who depend on these facilities for their care. Best cybersecurity practices include:

  • Educating residents in cybersecurity, such as learning to identify online scams and to avoid sharing personal details online with strangers.
  • Implementing security firewalls and antivirus software on all computer systems within the facility, including those owned or used by residents.
  • Separating facility and personal networks with robust anti-intrusion systems.
  • Ensuring compliance with HIPAA regulations, including encrypting information end-to-end.
  • Continually monitoring computer systems for signs of unlawful intrusion, and updating or patching software to correct vulnerabilities.
  • Hiring dedicated information technology (IT) staff for facilities, or utilizing a third-party IT service to handle cybersecurity issues.

With these cybersecurity practices working hand-in-hand with assisted living facility insurance and with cyber coverages, healthcare facilities can better protect against the looming threats posed by cyber criminals. Protecting America’s seniors from crime should be a priority for ALFs – in addition to providing residents with safe accommodations and expert care.

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 877.226.1027.