Last year, when a ransomware attack struck the Indiana-based, Eskenazi Health, the public hospital had to take its network offline. Electronic Health Records (EHRs) became inaccessible, the hospital was forced to cancel appointments, divert ambulances, and operate with mere pen and paper. The attack also compromised the medical, financial, and demographic information of more than 1.5 million patients.
Ransomware attacks are a growing nemesis of the healthcare sector. According to the Healthcare Breach Report, in 2021, 45 million individuals were affected by healthcare attacks, up from 34 million in 2020. And IBM reports that healthcare breaches cost the most, at $9.23 million per incident!
The impact of these cyberattacks are not limited to financial losses. They have devastating effects on patient care and safety, resulting in cancelled appointments, disrupted medical procedures, delays in lab test results, longer hospital stay, ambulance diversions, and more.
Security Challenges Bubble Up in Healthcare
While moving medical services online presents the healthcare sector with enormous benefits, it also equally augments security risks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says, “the digitalization of health records, the collection, evaluation, and provisioning of patient data, and the transmission of patient data over public networks pose new privacy and security threats to patients and healthcare providers.”
Some of the security challenges facing healthcare today are:
- Application Outages and Poor User Experience
Delivering fast and secure digital health services demands information such as Electronic Health Records (EHRs), insurance, and payments are readily available and easily accessible. This requires all servers, systems, and applications to be up and running seamlessly. But when there are poor authentication and access controls in place, verifying systems and enabling access can take unusually long. In the event of a data breach, authentication can even fail, causing system outages and disabling access—in turn, disrupting patient services and exposing patient data to theft.
- Compliance and Control
Healthcare organizations also work extensively with third-party vendors such as insurance providers, business partners, technology providers, pathology labs, scan centers, etc. All the vendors require access to patient records to deliver services seamlessly. The lack of efficient authentication and access control over external vendors and poor threat detection mechanisms create serious non-compliance issues. Further, less secure encryption leads cybercriminals to exploit security vulnerabilities in the healthcare supply chain to launch supply chain attacks that sometimes go undetected for months.
- IoT Security
Another major threat vector in healthcare is the Internet of Things (IoT). There is an increased proliferation of IoT in healthcare in the form of wearables, VoIP phones, IV pumps, ultrasounds, etc. These connected medical devices constantly capture and relay terabytes of sensitive patient information. So, they must be closely and continuously monitored for security and compliance. Organizations must also ensure they are not being tampered with before or during provisioning. However, legacy security controls are not equipped to handle such a large volume of devices in a fast-changing environment, especially when distributed. Given their vulnerable location, protecting them with perimeter-based controls becomes an enormous challenge. Weak authentication and encryption aggravate the problem, making IoT communications highly vulnerable to attacks, and risking patient health.
Benefits of Adopting Machine Identity Management in Healthcare
Protecting patient information and the healthcare infrastructure from cyberattacks is a top priority and a global challenge for the healthcare sector today. To that effect, cryptography and machine identity management are rising as essential security approaches. Here’s why:
- High Availability and Improved User Experience
Having instant access to medical information is key to providing vital medical care and ensuring patient safety. As patients trust healthcare providers with their sensitive information, secure access to data is also a must. Machine identities help achieve both these goals by providing seamless authentication and strong encryption.
Authentication via digital certificates is fast, which helps establish instant access to systems and data. Fool-proof authentication ensures no system experiences an outage because of failed verification. As the authentication process requires no manual intervention, user experience is not affected. Encryption, on the other hand, ensures information is relayed through secure communication channels, maintaining patient data privacy.
- Protection against Cyberattacks
With healthcare systems storing and exchanging a wealth of patient information, they must be well-protected with strong access controls and data encryption mechanisms. Machine identities are built to enable this. They allow organizations to verify the legitimacy of communicating parties and secure their communications on the internet. By using machine identities, organizations can monitor every asset and provide secure access to it regardless of its location. Machine identities also help organizations gain granular control over distributed assets and data, both on-premises and in the cloud, making it easier to detect potential threats and successfully evade them.
As identities are unique to each machine, healthcare organizations can also ensure that the right resources are provided with the right access. Governing the identities, regulating their access, and encrypting their communications helps build multiple layers of data security that can fight modern threats in perimeter-less environments.
- Improved Compliance
Owing to the highly-sensitive nature of patient data, the healthcare sector is heavily regulated by a suite of mandates, such as the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH), and Electronic Prescriptions for Controlled Substances (EPCS).
Adhering to these regulations requires healthcare organizations to have end-to-end visibility of all the assets in the infrastructure for precision control. Identifying all assets, creating an up-to-date asset inventory, and continuously monitoring for any anomalous is an effective way to mitigate risks. Maintaining compliance also requires a reliable mechanism to vet third-party vendors before granting them network access and provide conditional access. This is where machine identity management helps.
Machine identity management systems help gain complete visibility of all the assets in a distributed infrastructure. They scan the network in real-time, automatically create an asset and identity inventory, proactively monitor access, and alert security personnel of potential risks and vulnerabilities. They equip organizations with situational awareness, which helps improve threat detection and remediation in supply chains for robust compliance.
- Secure IoT Ecosystem
When it comes to IoT security, secure deployment, granular control, and compliance are critical. Machine identities help achieve all three capabilities. They help provision identities to the IoT devices right off the assembly line to tamper-proof them. Machine identities also help enforce software and application-level security through code signing or firmware signing, which helps prevents device tampering during provisioning and upgrades.
Provisioning machine identities also makes it easy for organizations to conduct compliance checks, ensure all devices have valid identities and run the latest, thoroughly-vetted software/ firmware versions for enterprise-level OT compliance.
Deliver Quality Digital Healthcare without Sacrificing Security
Amidst increasing digital expectations, rapid technology adoption, regulatory mandates, and rising cybercrime, cybersecurity might feel like an unfathomable undertaking. But it isn’t necessarily complex. With agile and resilient security approaches, cybersecurity could be simplified. Machine identity management is one of those approaches that can simplify modern cybersecurity and help healthcare build the immunity it takes to offer digital services without worrying about security or compliance.