Cybersecurity: The Nightmare That Keeps Me Up At Night

You are preparing for board meeting, but you can’t get into your reporting application.  You log off the computer and then log back in – no good.  You call the helpdesk and hear what you never want to: “The application is offline due to a potential cyber attack.”

Keeping organization data safe from hackers is a real concern for compliance professionals.  When asked what keeps them up at night, most would say it is the fear of finding one of the IT systems or applications was hacked. The nightmare may be recurring for compliance professionals who work in health care where personal, protected health information (PHI) data is stored in electronic health record applications.

To optimize cyber protection and minimize cyber events, it is recommended that compliance departments partner with their organization’s information technology (IT) and risk management departments.  A good place to start collaborating is to write and implement an organization-wide cybersecurity plan (CSP) based on each discipline’s input, this way input is included from each discipline leading to a more robust plan

As required under HIPAA and HITECH, Compliance and IT professionals generally focus on how to prevent both privacy and security breaches respectively, so the CSP should include prevention steps from both of those aspects.  While risk management includes prevention, risk also focuses on loss mitigation and minimizing impact to the organization’s reputation after a cyber event has occurred.

And the CSP must include ongoing staff education.  While there are many commercially available tools or applications which provide cyber protection against email hackers, phishers, malware, spyware, and viruses, these tools are only as good as the end users working on the organization’s computers.  Of course, the CSP should include appropriate fire walls and penetration testing by an outside vendor to assess the organizations privacy and security vulnerabilities; however, the best prevention is education for staff so they can identify emails which may contain malware, spyware or viruses.

Ongoing education should occur with staff at all levels of the organization.  Education should include internal IT generated phishing emails with remediation for those who “take the bait” and click on the bad links.  It should also include cross-departmental table-top exercises where cybersecurity related scenarios are presented and discussed to ensure familiarity with the CSP and to identify and improve upon weaknesses in the plan, staff education, or the applications used.


  1. Schedule a one-hour call with your insurance broker to review your cyber liability insurance policy and reporting requirements in the event of a privacy or security breach.
  2. Ensure you are current with not only federal, but state security and privacy laws.

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM
District Medical Group (DMG), Inc., Chief Risk Officer and owner of Denise Atwood, PLLC
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article or blog are the author’s and do not represent the opinions of DMG.

Denise Atwood, RN, JD, CPHRM has over 30 years of healthcare experience in compliance, risk management, quality, and clinical areas. She is also a published author and educator on risk, compliance, medical-legal and ethics issues. She is currently the Chief Risk Officer and Associate General Counsel at a nonprofit, multispecialty provider group in Phoenix, Arizona and Vice President of the company’s self-insurance captive.