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Protecting dental practices against cyber attacks

August 13, 2020

By Jennifer Garvin

Is your office protected from a ransomware attack?

Photo of Dr. Saba
Dr. Saba
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an alert, warning businesses to be on the lookout for criminals who “are increasingly exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ransomware is a form of malware where outside attackers remotely lock computer files and then demand a financial "ransom" to unlock the files.

Dr. Michael Saba said he never put too much thought into cybersecurity until he needed to replace the server in his Union, New Jersey, dental practice. He figured he’d hire an outside company to take care of it but said the quotes for the service were so far-ranging that he set out on a journey to educate himself.

“I started going down this rabbit hole learning about cybersecurity,” Dr. Saba said. “And it turns out that even with the best, most sophisticated stuff, it doesn't really matter what system you get. Because if you're not being diligent about training your staff about not opening attachments, then it doesn't matter.”

Mike Del Giudice, a consultant specializing in information security and data privacy, agreed, saying, “the human element is what attackers are trying to get to.”

To educate his dental team, Dr. Saba held a cybersecurity training session where they discussed ransomware and ways to prevent an attack.

“I told them, ‘Look, you can't open any emails if you don't know that someone specifically sent it to us.’”

Dr. Saba said he also backs up his data frequently and uses a firewall to protect his network.

Training employees and backing up data were among a list of best practices tips Mr. Del Giudice offered in an April webinar for the ADA.

Other tips included:
• Using an email content filtering system.
• Providing user security awareness by training employees to use strong passwords and how to identify suspicious emails.
• Installing anti-malware software.
• Keeping workstations safer by limiting administrative access when possible.
• Updating systems and testing them regularly against the latest vulnerabilities.
• Planning what to do if you are the victim of a cyberattack.

The Federal Trade Commission has a webpage to help small business owners protect themselves. Visit FTC.gov and search “ransomware” to learn more.

The ADA also offers tips on protecting dental practices. Visit Success.ADA.org and search “ransomware” to access all the Association’s resources. The recording webinar, Ransomware Readiness moderated by Mr. Del Giudice, is a free continuing education course available to all dentists. Visit ebusiness.ada.org/education and search 425.