Strengthening Defenses Against Cyber Attacks: Healthcare Edition


Recently, the medical sector has become a prime target for data breaches due to several factors. Being in a retail-like environment doesn’t help as would-be hackers have easy access to healthcare computers and medical equipment with patient data. Complicating matters, healthcare employees are often on the road or in motion and can leave behind devices containing patient information in a vehicle, for example. Thankfully, there are a few solutions to avoid accidents within this environment.

A viable option would be to bind physical security to the computer systems. Usernames and passwords get shared or even worse doctors walk away from the keyboards all the time while still logged in. By binding the physical key card to the system such as a proximity reader, passwords are eliminated and security is improved due to the system locking out as soon as the doctor walks away from the system.

Deploying user-based security analytics should also be considered as the security team can begin to trend in roles and view what normal activity looks like. Fraud and curiosity often lead to abuse and “breaches” of patient privacy, so when abuse or theft of digital identity occurs, it will get flagged as abnormal behaviour.

Virtual and physical threats to data

As modern machinery continues to evolve, with more devices connected to the infrastructure, isolating unnecessary devices from the network should be made a vital practice. For example, detaching medical and printer network devices from the rest of the hospital network goes a long way to removing the risk of attack. Attackers will try to expose any unprotected or vulnerable access point and it is often these unmanaged and unpatched systems that become targeted breeding grounds for attacks.

Hospitals, with so much private data stored, are a gold mine for hackers so encrypting the data on all hardware and storage devices is recommended. It has become the norm for medical systems to store the data in the local hospital. This allows for continuity in the event of internet outages. The risk of data loss is huge if someone can open a closet door and find the backup or the system running on a hard drive. Secure the room and ensure the hard drives have low level encryption so if they do grow legs, the data is protected.

Human interaction or social engineering is a hazard when protecting confidential patient information. Often people will call claiming they are a patient requesting records. To avoid the data being wrongly distributed, make sure a strong process is in place when checking and validating any patient claiming to be who they are stating over the phone or email. This may seem obvious, but it’s a basic step that many fail to adopt.

Lastly don’t forget to test your policies. Checking that the security measures in place are being utilized by all employees is crucial. This may involve changing the common attitude towards IT security, but keep in mind that all it takes is one lapse in a system for a devastating breach has occurred. You can bet that he bad guys will be testing every one you just implemented. Just be sure you are doing it first.