Persistent Network Security Demands Healthy Habits

Keith Brennan

Few industries are immune to compliance pressures, and for healthcare organizations it means committing to a self-care regiment that protects massive amounts of highly confidential data with persistent network security.

Organizations are trusted by their patients to be custodians for health records, payment details and other Personally Identifiable Information (PII). They must also be compliant with regulatory frameworks and government legislation, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), among others. Maintaining good compliance hygiene is a daily commitment on its own, but since healthcare is one of the most highly targeted industries because its data is highly valued on the black market, it must also ward off threats by hackers and other cyber-criminals.

A healthy compliance posture requires persistent network security, which can be a challenge for healthcare leaders struggling to align budget to address this risk. While focusing on digital transformation initiatives that modernize the network environment can provide some remedy, compliance driven security must be adopted as preventative medicine.

Be Ready for Threats from Within

Network security used to be about maintaining healthy boundaries at the perimeter, but mobile computing, cloud platforms and digital transformation mean these boundaries are more porous and less defined. Add in Internet of Things (IoT) devices for patient monitoring and home healthcare delivery, and you have a prescription for data breaches and non-compliance.

The enterprise security model based on firm network boundaries no longer exists. Moving mission-critical workloads from on-premise data centers across multi-cloud environments managed by third parties means PII is more widely distributed. Healthcare organizations no longer have tight control over data, applications and infrastructure. In addition, non-technical users are more easily able to set up processes and workflows that can create weak links that can be exploited—a small bug can find its way in and slowly grow to become an infection that spreads and puts valuable information at risk.

Healthcare organizations must adapt their security models to become preventative—persistent network security must be the preferred mode, not perimeter, with the understanding that attacks can originate from within. It must detect symptoms early on by identifying abnormal network activity and user behavior before either can become a threat.

Just like maintaining good health, persistent network security requires visibility and regular testing across an increasingly complex organization. If you’re to foster a culture of compliance, you must establish a regimen that includes automation of security policies and controls.

Healthy Data Security Requires a Holistic View

You can’t have persistence without automation because the threats to security are just as persistent. Hackers and cyber-criminals are automating their attacks, and even leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), which means it’s not possible to ward them off with people power alone.

Any organization, healthcare or otherwise, should look at persistent network security as if they were bolstering a body’s immune system. You need to have automatic defenses that can proactively adapt to evolving threat actors. The right cybersecurity technology, including firewalls, is obviously essential, but so too is a global security policy.

However, you can’t automate without visibility, so you must do a complete diagnosis of the entire organization. You must have a full understanding of the nature of the data flowing through your infrastructure, who can access it and where the workloads accessing it reside, whether it’s a private, public or multi-cloud environment. From there you can apply and enforce the appropriate policies to mitigate risk and meet compliance obligations. Like any healthy habit, persistent network security means this asset discovery process is an ongoing one so that new endpoints and accumulating data are automatically subject to global security controls.

Your initial audit helps establish a baseline for normal and expected behaviors—who can access what data and how it might be used in line with security policy. You then must continually monitor network and use behavior and compare it against those baselines. Ideally, any remediation should be automatic—large data downloads to a location outside a firewall should be stopped before they are started.

Smart automation frees up people to do the tasks that still must be done manually, but you still want guidelines for who does what. If you want complete visibility of what’s happening in your organization, you should have a single team responsible for persistent network security rather diffusing responsibilities across your IT department or depending on non-technical managers to keep security in mind when spinning up new applications.

Persistent Network Security Boosts Immunity

Patient records, payment details and other PII flowing through healthcare organizations require constant, daily care if they are to be fully secured. If you’re to meet today’s compliance pressures you must have complete visibility as to how this data is being stored, moved and used. Automation is essential to keep up with the threats to this highly confidential data—persistent network security is ultimately about preventing breaches, not treating them after they happen.

This is an important topic for many healthcare organizations. Join FireMon as we take the stage at the Healthcare Security Forum, a HIMSS event, being held December 9-10 in Boston. Not going to make the trip this year? Then visit our website for more information on how to apply persistent network security to your compliance, risk and network security initiatives.