Encryption might seem like an expensive step, especially for smaller, local practices confined to a single office. It might also seem unnecessary — why go to the trouble of encryption for a dental office when encryption services cater to big banks, financial companies, and hospitals?
The answer is simple: modern technology makes it easier and cheaper to do, and the same advances in technology make it more necessary than ever. Cybercriminals take advantage of the same advances in security technology you do when they try to breach your security.
Their new tactics put your patients’ Protected Health Information (PHI) and financial records at risk. If they can expose those records, they’ll put your dental practice at risk of liability.
Privacy regulations and security standards have risen in the last few years to face these threats. Encryption has gone from a “nice to have” to a necessity that no medical provider, large or small, can go without.
Anyone who uses encryption and understands why it’s important must also have a basic picture in their head of how it works.
Email encryption disguises and conceals the contents of emails. Not just the body text, but any attached files, the sender and receiver data, and all other information within and about the email.
Encryption makes this protection possible because it adds an additional layer of authentication. Whether in the background or performed by a human, this extra protection keeps the contents of the email away from unauthorized users.
In other words, it makes sure that no one other than the intended recipient of the email can read the email and access its contents. Encryption helps protect its users everywhere they go but has special value for anyone who sends and receives information on a public, unsecured network.
Anyone can access such a network, interact with other devices on it, and intercept information like emails transmitted over it. Encryption ensures that hackers can’t breach emails they intercept or copy that have been sent over an open network.
Encryption doesn’t represent a single set of best practices or programs but a wide variety of options. Two of them include digital signatures and public key infrastructure.
As the name implies, signature encryption services place a hidden digital signature in the emails that the receiver’s inbox knows matches yours.
This technique cuts down on spam and “spoof” emails that pretend to come from you but really came from someone else. When a receiver fails to notice the fake email address (often close to the real sender’s address) and opens an attachment or clicks a link, they can expose themselves and their system to all kinds of threats.
Digital signatures limit users’ exposure to those attacks with a form of automatic authentication that requires no additional input from the user and no technical expertise whatsoever. This service runs in the background, which leaves your employees free to operate the business as usual.
Public key infrastructure combines a “public key” that everyone you want to send information to knows and a “private key” that only you know.
The private key decrypts the message into a readable format upon receipt, which is locked down with the public key. Despite the name “public key,” these keys reside in the network and never leave for the broader internet, so cyber criminals can’t locate and copy these keys to breach your emails.
Now that you know how encryption works, it’s time to break down 6 ways it can help your dental practice in particular.
1. Reduces the Attack Surface for Your Practice Management Software
The most vital part of any modern dental IT suite is its practice management software (PMS). Odds are, this software is a valuable part of your practice’s everyday operations. From appointments to billing, it brings most if not all business functions together in a nice, simple suite.
This great strength is also a PMS’s biggest weakness. Because it collects a massive amount of information on your customers, their records, and their financial information like health insurance, credit cards, and bank accounts, a single breach blows your records wide open.
Because hackers know this, your PMS makes for a juicy target. Your PMS, which can include options like Open Dental, Eaglesoft, or Dentrix, may or may not properly encrypt emails. If it doesn’t, your practice is very vulnerable to attackers.
Even if it does, and you know exactly what types of encryption and other protections your office carries and how they work, a second layer of encryption protection never hurt anyone.
2. Protects Employees Outside Dental IT Teams
There’s no such thing as too much protection, thanks to the human element. “The human firewall” is the most important protection for any digital security surface because people are the weakest link. All of the technology in the world doesn’t help if phishing email tricks a user into a password breach which turns into a full-blown data leak.
Spammers and attempts at phishing (the use of convincing — but fake — email messages to trick employees and convince them to surrender their usernames and passwords to bad actors rather than IT staff) are much harder to block on an unencrypted network.
Email encryption can stop these attacks in their tracks, catch dangerous emails in filters, and keep them away from your staff’s eyes.
While local dental IT support should still encourage caution and keep staff up-to-date and educated on the risks and how to avoid them, an encryption protocol reduces the number of initial exposures and therefore decreases the odds that something will go wrong.
3. Gets Easier (and Cheaper) through Automation
Technology marches on, and even though hackers are getting more sophisticated, the less-competent cybercriminals haven’t gone anywhere. Encryption keeps said criminals away from your practice.
These advancements also mean that encryption has become cheaper — it’s no longer the budget drain as it used to be. This price decrease is a huge benefit for smaller practices and offices on a budget.
It’s easier than ever before to afford protection plans and data benefits that used to lie far out of reach. Large security providers are much better at keeping up with the criminals than decentralized, individual offices.
4. Complies with Relevant Privacy Standards
Laws like HIPAA have strict rules regarding the transfer and use of PHI. These regulations place significant responsibility on the shoulders of health service providers.
While hospitals and general practitioners jump to mind when most people discuss HIPAA, HIPAA applies to all healthcare providers. Just like ophthalmologists and other specialists, dentists provide a form of healthcare and must follow the same HIPAA regulations.
An unsecured transfer or an email breached by a cybercriminal or hacker that contains protected health information is considered to be a HIPAA violation. The Office of Civil Rights punishes these violations with substantial fines, which it levies for each breach.
Failure to close security loopholes on time can shift the classification of the violation from unintentional to intentional. The fines for intentional breaches, again levied for each infraction, can cripple a business.
There’s no dentist’s office that wants to pay the hefty fines for violations. Encryption helps to keep that from happening.
5. Hides in Plain Sight
No one could be blamed for thinking that encrypting only important emails is a great way to save time and resources. But everyone who uses an encryption service should have it encrypt all emails every time they’re sent.
Suppose your practice encrypts important emails that contain patient information and not regular, non-essential communication. In that case, criminals with an eye on your network know the encrypted email contains valuable information.
They make a beeline straight for it because they know they can steal information that they can use. Whether it’s customer information that they can use for fraud or PHI that they can sell, they know encrypted emails are worth the effort.
An encryption service for your dental office that encrypts every email, on the other hand, hides valuable, sensitive information amidst all of the noise. Hackers have no idea where to turn or which targets might add the most value.
Remember that criminals are smart, but they are also lazy. If they see a lot of data that they have to spend time and effort to crack with no guarantee of success, they will go elsewhere for a more probable payout.
6. Increases Convenience — Your Current DSO’s Services Might Already Include Encryption
DSOs, or dental support organizations, provide a variety of valuable non-clinical services to both new and veteran practices. When you start to look for encryption providers, reach out to your current DSO to see if they have options rather than beginning a new relationship with an unknown party.
Rather than seeing encryption as a hassle, dental practices can use it as a way to enhance their relationships with their existing partners and deepen the connection between two symbiotic business entities.
Zenith Dental IT is one such group. We offer remote IT solutions specialized for dentists. With encryption and more, we add a valuable set of resources for HIPAA compliance and general solutions.
Visit our quote page, and find out just how we can help you out.
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