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Healthcare organizations face unique security challenges

Maria Korolov | June 10, 2015
Healthcare organizations today are facing a new and unique set of challenges. Their recently-digitized healthcare records have turned out to be extremely valuable to criminals, while hospitals, clinics, and other organizations are still learning how to protect them.

Healthcare organizations today are facing a new and unique set of challenges. Their recently-digitized healthcare records have turned out to be extremely valuable to criminals, while hospitals, clinics, and other organizations are still learning how to protect them.

Plus, healthcare organizations have additional challenges that they're facing on top of that.

Personnel issues

In hospitals, doctors' offices, insurance companies, and other related organizations, a large number of people need access to patient records to do their jobs.

Some of these employees are temporary, or visiting from partner organizations, or have recently changed roles, said Gary Palgon, vice president of healthcare solutions at Atlanta-based Liaison Technologies.

"So access control needs to be maintained to maintain proper security," he said.

Mobile device issues

Healthcare organizations have sensitive data spread across a number of devices, not just servers and desktops but also laptops, mobile devices, and specialized devices for inputting medical record data.

"All devices with sensitive data should be able to be encrypted at all times and have the ability to remotely wipe devices when lost," said Palgon. "Most organizations have capabilities to encrypt laptops and are beginning to gain access to technologies to protect other mobile devices, but not all have successfully rolled them out."

According to the most recent Healthcare Breach Report from Bitglass, 68 percent of all healthcare data breaches since 2010 were due to device theft or loss.

"We've been hearing of far too many stories of laptops being stolen from clinician's cars or offices," said Ananth Balasubramanian, head of vertical solutions at  CommVault Systems.

Healthcare organizations need to have processes in place so that they would quickly learn about the loss, wipe the data remotely, and provision a replacement laptop so that the clinician could go back to work, he said.

Medical equipment issues

Healthcare organizations also have specialized medical equipment that could pose particular security challenges.

Medical devices are closed systems, that cannot be easily scanned for malware, said Carl Wright, general manager at TrapX.

"As FDA certified systems, they are not open for the installation of additional third-party software by the hospital staff," he said. But they are vulnerable to some threats.

For example, he said, in one case his company analyzed, a hospital staffer clicked on a link in an email which installed a worm. The worm spread through the hospital's network and then hid inside the medical devices.

The IT team thought it caught the worm everywhere and cleaned it out, but missed the infections inside the devices, where the worm then created a back door into the hospital.

"From there, the attacker was able to move carefully within the hospital network to identify and exfiltrate key data," Wright said. "The standard hospital cyber security suite could not scan or detect any activity within the medical device."

 

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