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Systematic Review

Influence of Human Factors on Cyber Security within Healthcare Organisations: A Systematic Review

Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Solna, Sweden
School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, Queen Mary University of London, London E1 4NS, UK
Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Kent ME4 4TB, UK
School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, University of Greenwich, London SE10 9LS, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Academic Editors: Alexios Mylonas and Nikolaos Pitropakis
Sensors 2021, 21(15), 5119;
Received: 29 June 2021 / Revised: 15 July 2021 / Accepted: 16 July 2021 / Published: 28 July 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Cyber Situational Awareness in Computer Networks)
Background: Cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a prominent concern among healthcare providers in adopting digital technologies for improving the quality of care delivered to patients. The recent reports on cyber attacks, such as ransomware and WannaCry, have brought to life the destructive nature of such attacks upon healthcare. In complement to cyberattacks, which have been targeted against the vulnerabilities of information technology (IT) infrastructures, a new form of cyber attack aims to exploit human vulnerabilities; such attacks are categorised as social engineering attacks. Following an increase in the frequency and ingenuity of attacks launched against hospitals and clinical environments with the intention of causing service disruption, there is a strong need to study the level of awareness programmes and training activities offered to the staff by healthcare organisations. Objective: The objective of this systematic review is to identify commonly encountered factors that cybersecurity postures of a healthcare organisation, resulting from the ignorance of cyber threat to healthcare. The systematic review aims to consolidate the current literature being reported upon human behaviour resulting in security gaps that mitigate the cyber defence strategy adopted by healthcare organisations. Additionally, the paper also reviews the organisational risk assessment methodology implemented and the policies being adopted to strengthen cybersecurity. Methods: The topic of cybersecurity within healthcare and the clinical environment has attracted the interest of several researchers, resulting in a broad range of literature. The inclusion criteria for the articles in the review stem from the scope of the five research questions identified. To this end, we conducted seven search queries across three repositories, namely (i) PubMed®/MED-LINE; (ii) Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL); and (iii) Web of Science (WoS), using key words related to cybersecurity awareness, training, organisation risk assessment methodologies, policies and recommendations adopted as counter measures within health care. These were restricted to around the last 12 years. Results: A total of 70 articles were selected to be included in the review, which addresses the complexity of cybersecurity measures adopted within the healthcare and clinical environments. The articles included in the review highlight the evolving nature of cybersecurity threats stemming from exploiting IT infrastructures to more advanced attacks launched with the intent of exploiting human vulnerability. A steady increase in the literature on the threat of phishing attacks evidences the growing threat of social engineering attacks. As a countermeasure, through the review, we identified articles that provide methodologies resulting from case studies to promote cybersecurity awareness among stakeholders. The articles included highlight the need to adopt cyber hygiene practices among healthcare professionals while accessing social media platforms, which forms an ideal test bed for the attackers to gain insight into the life of healthcare professionals. Additionally, the review also includes articles that present strategies adopted by healthcare organisations in countering the impact of social engineering attacks. The evaluation of the cybersecurity risk assessment of an organisation is another key area of study reported in the literature that recommends the organisation of European and international standards in countering social engineering attacks. Lastly, the review includes articles reporting on national case studies with an overview of the economic and societal impact of service disruptions encountered due to cyberattacks. Discussion: One of the limitations of the review is the subjective ranking of the authors associated to the relevance of literature to each of the research questions identified. We also acknowledge the limited amount of literature that focuses on human factors of cybersecurity in health care in general; therefore, the search queries were formulated using well-established cybersecurity related topics categorised according to the threats, risk assessment and organisational strategies reported in the literature. View Full-Text
Keywords: cybersecurity; social engineering attacks; human factors; cyber risk assessment; cybersecurity awareness training cybersecurity; social engineering attacks; human factors; cyber risk assessment; cybersecurity awareness training
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MDPI and ACS Style

Nifakos, S.; Chandramouli, K.; Nikolaou, C.K.; Papachristou, P.; Koch, S.; Panaousis, E.; Bonacina, S. Influence of Human Factors on Cyber Security within Healthcare Organisations: A Systematic Review. Sensors 2021, 21, 5119.

AMA Style

Nifakos S, Chandramouli K, Nikolaou CK, Papachristou P, Koch S, Panaousis E, Bonacina S. Influence of Human Factors on Cyber Security within Healthcare Organisations: A Systematic Review. Sensors. 2021; 21(15):5119.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Nifakos, Sokratis, Krishna Chandramouli, Charoula K. Nikolaou, Panagiotis Papachristou, Sabine Koch, Emmanouil Panaousis, and Stefano Bonacina. 2021. "Influence of Human Factors on Cyber Security within Healthcare Organisations: A Systematic Review" Sensors 21, no. 15: 5119.

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