Three Steps Healthcare Organizations Can Take For a More Secure Network

Todd Weller

Guest post by Todd Weller, vice president of product development, Hexis Cyber Solutions

According to a 2014 Identity Theft Resource Center Report, the healthcare industry has officially surpassed other major industries and now accounts for 42.3 percent of all data breaches recorded last year. As the number of patient medical records transitions to a digital sharing model, the potential cost of data breaches is now substantially higher than for those less regulated, like retail and public services. It’s clear that the industry is increasingly vulnerable to sophisticated cyberattacks; hackers are after vital patient information such as social security numbers and past medical records. With limited budgets and priorities often, and rightfully, placed on patient care, many healthcare organizations lack the resources to implement stronger security levels. Despite these constraints, with the right technology and best practices in place healthcare organizations can position themselves for success.

The costs associated with “damage control” for many healthcare providers is steep with the annual cap on fines for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and HITECH Act of 2009, up from a maximum of $25,000 per year to $1.5 million. And fines are only part of the financial burden. Investigation and legal efforts, business downtime and decreased credibility all drive up costs even further.

Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations are still facing challenges when it comes to effectively communicating and collaborating on security. In many of these healthcare organizations, there is a department for privacy and compliance and then a separate department for enterprise IT security. Functional groups are often siloed and share very little information with each other. This becomes a major issue in the event of a breach as neither side is able to understand the full spectrum of the threat without the others’ data.

The consequences of the gap between compliance and IT security becomes evident when dealing with insider threats. An individual’s actions may look legitimate but when correlated against other activity, could indicate that malicious activity is occurring. A workstation that has always previously accessed clinical data or some other patient information doesn’t raise suspicion. But a subtle, steady increase in traffic, say of five or ten percent, correlated with communication to an unauthorized or new IP address, likely indicates a breach. The same example could apply to an external threat with a malicious actor using social engineering methods to entice an unwitting user to download malware. Once inside the network, the malware can replicate the very same scenario. Either way, a breach has occurred. The IT security department may discover the situation, investigate and handle it and move on to the next task. But without visibility into this type of data, how would the compliance department learn about possible data leakage and take the necessary steps to investigate and report?

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Three Steps Healthcare Organizations Can Take for a More Secure Network

Guest post by Todd Weller, vice president of corporate development, Hexis Cyber Solutions, Inc.

Todd Weller
Todd Weller

According to a 2014 Identity Theft Resource Center Report, the healthcare industry has officially surpassed other major industries and now accounts for 42.3 percent of all data breaches recorded last year. As the number of patient medical records transitions to a digital sharing model, the potential cost of data breaches is now substantially higher than for those less regulated, like retail and public services. It’s clear that the industry is increasingly vulnerable to sophisticated cyberattacks; hackers are after vital patient information such as social security numbers and past medical records.

With limited budgets and priorities often, and rightfully, placed on patient care, many healthcare organizations lack the resources to implement stronger security levels. Despite these constraints, with the right technology and best practices in place healthcare organizations can position themselves for success.

The costs associated with “damage control” for many healthcare providers is steep with the annual cap on fines for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and HITECH Act of 2009, up from a maximum of $25,000 per year to $1.5 million. And fines are only part of the financial burden. Investigation and legal efforts, business downtime and decreased credibility all drive up costs even further.

Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations are still facing challenges when it comes to effectively communicating and collaborating on security. In many of these healthcare organizations, there is a department for privacy and compliance and then a separate department for enterprise IT security. Functional groups are often siloed and share very little information with each other. This becomes a major issue in the event of a breach as neither side is able to understand the full spectrum of the threat without the others’ data.

The consequences of the gap between compliance and IT security becomes evident when dealing with insider threats. An individual’s actions may look legitimate, but when correlated against other activity, could indicate that malicious activity is occurring. A workstation that has always previously accessed clinical data or some other patient information doesn’t raise suspicion. But a subtle, steady increase in traffic, say of 5 percent or 10 percent, correlated with communication to an unauthorized or new IP address, likely indicates a breach. The same example could apply to an external threat with a malicious actor using social engineering methods to entice an unwitting user to download malware. Once inside the network, the malware can replicate the very same scenario. Either way, a breach has occurred. The IT security department may discover the situation, investigate and handle it and move on to the next task. But without visibility into this type of data, how would the compliance department learn about possible data leakage and take the necessary steps to investigate and report?

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Bridging Communication Between Privacy and IT Security in Healthcare

Kim Lennan
Kim Lennan

Guest post by Kim Lennan serves as director of healthcare markets for Hexis Cyber Solutions.

The cost of IT security data breaches in the highly regulated healthcare industry is staggering, as it tops even the likes of financial services market. No one is immune. Nearly 94 percent of medical institutions report that their organizations have been victims of a cyber attack, according to findings by the Ponemon Institute. With the update last year to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and HITECH Act of 2009, signs of increasing expenses are again a reality. The annual cap on fines for security breaches has also skyrocketed from a maximum of $25,000 per year to $1.5 million.

With breaches in healthcare spanning from insider, nosey-neighbor snooping, to external, cyber-threats, such as malware, there is an obvious urgency for detection and remediation solutions that engage not only the hardened perimeter, but also the soft center, spanning all the way out to the ancillary systems which at once stood alone, but are now networked and part of the entire electronic healthcare ecosystem.

Establishing a single, integrated, active defense approach to bolster your security posture and mitigate insider breach, as well as cybercrime in healthcare, begins with a motion to break down internal barriers. Organizations need technology and organization leaders who champion a bridging the gap between the two influential and liable, yet often un-collaborating services providers responsible for protecting these domains: Privacy and compliance and enterprise IT security.

Coordinating the effort to monitor networks and applications to achieve a greater understanding of risky behavior is a giant step toward detecting early indicators of compromise and strengthening the weak links in your security practice. We recommend an assessment of the often overlooked, non-standard variety of electronic data carriers, which can fall into the category of the “Internet of Things,” those medical device end-points, video surveillance systems, x-ray machines and call contact systems. These must be treated as part of the entire electronic ecosystem to achieve a greater degree of data protection. They carry patient health information (PHI) and even intellectual business property, and are largely unprotected by traditional intrusion detection solutions. While often perceived as immune to breaches, they represent readily available ports of entry for an attacker.

A unified approach to end-user education and monitoring for early breach detection that fosters risk mitigation requires tight coordination between privacy and IT security.  The challenge is in how. Functional groups are often siloed and share very little information with each other. This becomes a major issue in the event of a breach, as neither side is able to understand the full spectrum of the threat without the others’ data. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

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