We’re willing to bet that cybersecurity probably isn’t anywhere near the top of your list of priorities as a veterinary professional.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. While technology plays a key role in helping veterinary practices streamline operations and provide better patient care, it also exposes these businesses to a range of cyberthreats, including malware, data theft, ransomware, and more.
In this blog post, we’ve rounded up 10 essential tips to help you bolster your IT security processes, protect your data, and minimize the risk of disruption.
1. Assess your current status
Before you can improve your cybersecurity, you need to know where you stand. Conducting a cybersecurity assessment is the first step.
Start by evaluating your current cybersecurity measures and identifying potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities in your systems. You can use self-assessment tools (the National Institute of Standards and Technology offers a bunch of resources here) or seek the help of cybersecurity professionals for a more comprehensive evaluation. Completing a self-assessment will provide you with a baseline understanding of your practice's cybersecurity posture and where improvements are needed.
Understanding your vulnerabilities is crucial. It allows you to prioritize and allocate resources effectively. Common vulnerabilities in veterinary practices include outdated software, weak passwords, and inadequate employee training.
- Identify and document your practice’s most important assets.
- Create a clear inventory of all devices and systems connected to your network.
- Determine potential vulnerabilities and allocate resources accordingly.
2. Conduct regular cybersecurity training
Your people are your first line of defense. Because most cyber incidents begin with a user-initiated action (say, clicking a malicious URL or opening a dodgy link), every member of your entire team has a role to play in keeping your network secure.
Train your staff to recognize and respond to potential threats, with a particular focus on phishing and social engineering. Spelling errors, unsolicited messages, mismatching URLs, unusual requests for sensitive information, and the use of urgent language are all common signs of a phishing scam. The cyberthreat landscape is continuously evolving, so training should ideally be an ongoing process to ensure your team is up to date with the latest threats and adversarial techniques.
- Conduct regular cybersecurity training sessions.
- Provide examples of phishing emails and how to identify them.
- Emphasize the significance of strong, unique passwords.
3. Enforce the use of strong passwords
Passwords are the keys to your practice's digital assets. Weak or easily guessable passwords can open the door to cybercriminals. Encourage the use of strong, unique passwords for all accounts and devices.
All passwords should be:
- Long: A strong password is typically at least 12-16 characters long. Longer passwords are generally more secure because they are harder for attackers to guess or crack using brute force methods.
- Random: Avoid using easily guessable information like common words, phrases, or patterns (e.g., "password," "123456," "qwerty"). Instead, create a password that appears random.
- Unique: Every online account should have a unique password. Reusing passwords across multiple accounts increases vulnerability if one of them is compromised.
Consider implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security. MFA requires users to provide two or more forms of identification before gaining access to an account, making it significantly harder for attackers to breach your systems.
- Enforce password policies that require complexity.
- Encourage staff to check if their email address has been involved in a data breach using a breach verification service like Have I Been Pwned.
- Implement MFA wherever possible.
4. Keep your software up to date
Cybercriminals often target known vulnerabilities in software and systems. Keeping your software, operating systems, and antivirus programs up to date is crucial. Updates often include security patches that fix these vulnerabilities. Neglecting updates can leave your practice exposed to exploitation.
Google, for example, recently released an important security update to fix a critical Chrome vulnerability that was identified in late September. You can check for updates via the Chrome menu > Help > About Google Chrome.
- Enable automatic updates for software and operating systems.
- Regularly check for updates to third-party software and plugins.
- Establish a schedule for updating and patching systems.
5. Restrict access to data
Limiting access to sensitive data and systems is crucial to reducing the risk of unauthorized breaches. Implement strict access control policies so that only authorized employees have access to confidential information. Following the principle of least privilege means granting employees the minimum access necessary to perform their job roles.
Access controls can also be applied in ezyVet via role-based permissions, which can help you quickly limit access to important resources within your veterinary clinic according to a person’s job function. To learn more, check out this blog post on ezyVet’s customizable role-based permissions.
- Conduct regular access reviews and revoke unnecessary permissions.
- Implement role-based access controls to ensure appropriate access levels.
- Educate employees about the importance of protecting their login credentials.
6. Secure your mobile devices
One of the key advantages of transitioning to the cloud is the ability to remotely access your practice management software from any internet-connected device, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. It’s a more flexible way of working; one that helps restore work-life balance for staff and allows practices to provide greater continuity of care. However, it’s important to remember that all of these devices can potentially be vulnerable points of entry for cybercriminals and should be secured accordingly.
- Require employees to set up passcodes or biometric authentication (e.g., fingerprint or facial recognition) on their mobile devices.
- Enable device encryption to protect data in case a device is lost or stolen.
- Install mobile device management (MDM) software to remotely manage and wipe devices if necessary.
7. Create an incident response plan
Absolute security doesn’t exist. Despite your best efforts, there’s always a risk - no matter how small - that something malicious could potentially slip past your defenses.
When that moment happens, it’s essential to have an incident response plan in place. An incident response plan sets out the actions, procedures, and responsibilities that an organization should follow when responding to incidents. An effective response plan can help minimize disruption, contain the incident, preserve the integrity of your data, and protect the reputation of your business.
The thought of developing an incident response plan might be daunting, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a complex or overly technical document. It simply defines who should do what in the event of an incident so that you can return to business as usual as quickly and safely as possible.
For more information on creating an incident response plan, check out this guide from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
- Identify a designated incident response team or point of contact.
- Create a step-by-step incident response plan that outlines what to do in case of a cyber incident.
- Establish clear communication channels and responsibilities during an incident.
8. Evaluate third-party vendors
Every third-party vendor that you rely on to run your business - including your practice management software! - is a potential entry point for cyberthreats. So, it’s important to do your homework and evaluate all prospective vendors to ensure they meet your specific security standards.
ezyVet uses Amazon Web Services, the same infrastructure used by some of the world's most security-conscious organizations, including NASA and the U.S. Department of State. ezyVet data is encrypted and stored in cloud data centers with automated failover systems to ensure system continuity even in the event of catastrophic failure.
See this blog post for more information on how moving to the cloud can enhance your security posture.
- Review the security practices and certifications of third-party vendors.
- Include cybersecurity clauses in contracts with vendors, specifying security responsibilities and compliance requirements.
- Regularly assess the security of the services provided by third-party vendors.
9. Don’t forget about physical security
Physical security is often overlooked in cybersecurity discussions, but it's just as important as digital security. Ensure that physical access to your practice's servers, computers, portable devices, and other sensitive equipment is restricted and monitored through the use of locks, cabinets, security cameras, biometric verification, and so on.
- Store servers and critical equipment in a secure, locked room or cabinet.
- Limit physical access to authorized personnel only.
- Implement security measures such as security cameras and access logs.
10. Carry out regular security audits
Regularly auditing your practice's security measures can help identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses that might otherwise go unnoticed. Consider conducting security audits and vulnerability assessments on a routine basis to proactively address potential issues.
- Hire a cybersecurity professional or firm to perform regular security audits.
- Identify and prioritize vulnerabilities for remediation based on risk assessments.
- Implement recommendations from security audits promptly.
Bonus: Helpful free resources
- VirusTotal: Analyzes suspicious files and URLs for malicious content.
- Have I Been Pwned: Checks if your email address or phone number has been involved in a data breach.
- BleepingComputer: Publishes the latest technology and cybersecurity news.
- CISA: Provides a huge repository of free cybersecurity resources.
In conclusion, protecting your veterinary practice from cyber threats is a shared responsibility that involves everyone on your team. By implementing these cybersecurity measures and fostering a culture of security awareness, you can significantly reduce the risk of cyberattacks and keep your practice and patient data safe.
Still operating on a server-based system? Book a demo today and discover how ezyVet can help you save time, deliver better patient care, and keep your data more secure.