HHS Announces Next Steps in Ongoing Work to Enhance Cybersecurity for Healthcare and Public Health Sectors

Dec. 6, 2023
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Dec. 6 released a concept paper that outlines the Department’s cybersecurity strategy for the healthcare sector

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Dec. 6 released a concept paper that outlines the Department’s cybersecurity strategy for the healthcare sector. The concept paper builds on the National Cybersecurity Strategy that President Biden released last year, focusing specifically on strengthening resilience for hospitals, patients, and communities threatened by cyber-attacks. The paper details four pillars for action, including publishing new voluntary healthcare-specific cybersecurity performance goals, working with Congress to develop supports and incentives for domestic hospitals to improve cybersecurity, and increasing accountability and coordination within the healthcare sector.

According to the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), cyber incidents in healthcare are on the rise. From 2018-2022, there has been a 93% increase in large breaches reported to OCR (369 to 712), with a 278% increase in large breaches involving ransomware. Cyber incidents affecting hospitals and health systems have led to extended care disruptions, patient diversions to other facilities, and delayed medical procedures, all putting patient safety at risk.

“Since entering office, the Biden-Harris Administration has worked to strengthen the nation’s defenses against cyberattacks. The healthcare sector is particularly vulnerable, and the stakes are especially high. Our commitment to this work reflects that urgency and importance,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “HHS is working with healthcare and public health partners to bolster our cyber security capabilities nationwide. We are taking necessary actions that will make a big difference for the hospitals, patients, and communities who are being impacted.”

“Hospitals across the country have experienced cyberattacks, leading to cancelled medical treatments and stolen medical records. Such impacts are preventable – to keep Americans safe, the Biden-Harris Administration is establishing strong cybersecurity standards for healthcare organizations and enhancing resources to improve cyber resiliency across the health sector, including working with Congress to provide financial support for hospitals. Today’s announcement by HHS builds on Biden-Harris Administration’s work to operationalize smart cybersecurity practices in our nation’s most critical sectors, like pipelines, aviation, and rail systems,” said Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technologies.

“The healthcare sector is experiencing a significant rise in cyberattacks, putting patient safety at risk. These attacks expose vulnerabilities in our healthcare system, degrade patient trust, and ultimately endanger patient safety,” said HHS Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm. “HHS takes these threats very seriously, and we are taking steps that will ensure our hospitals, patients, and communities impacted by cyberattacks are better prepared and more secure.”

The HHS concept paper outlines the following actions:

  • Publish voluntary Healthcare and Public Health sector Cybersecurity Performance Goals (HPH CPGs). HHS will release HPH CPGs to help healthcare institutions plan and prioritize implementation of high-impact cybersecurity practices.
  • Provide resources to incentivize and implement cybersecurity practices. HHS will work with Congress to obtain new authority and funding to administer financial support and incentives for domestic hospitals to implement high-impact cybersecurity practices.
  • Implement an HHS-wide strategy to support greater enforcement and accountability. HHS will propose new enforceable cybersecurity standards, informed by the HPH CPGs, that would be incorporated into existing programs, including Medicare and Medicaid and the HIPAA Security Rule.
  • Expand and mature the one-stop shop within HHS for healthcare sector cybersecurity. HHS will mature the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response’s (ASPR) coordination role as a “one-stop shop” for healthcare cybersecurity which will improve coordination within HHS and the Federal Government, deepen HHS and the Federal government’s partnership with industry, improve access and uptake of government support and services, and increase HHS’s incident response capabilities.

The full concept paper is available here.

The President’s National Cyber Security Strategy is available here.

HHS has the press release.

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