Six focus areas to address the top security challenges facing healthcare organizations today.

July 31, 2023

4 Min Read

By Jason Wessel, Principal Global Healthcare Solutions Consultant, Palo Alto Networks

Digital innovation continues to improve patient outcomes and accelerate accessibility and equity of care, while new digital technologies empower patients to engage in their care from anywhere. This profound transformation has enhanced the efficiency and productivity of healthcare professionals to make informed data-driven decisions, coordinate care more effectively, and ensure the continuity of care across multiple medical disciplines. Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) tools help healthcare providers derive insights from vast amounts of valuable healthcare data. This enables evidence-based decision-making, personalized treatment plans, predictive analytics for population health management, and contributions to clinical research and innovations.

Healthcare IT organizations are now center stage and have a pivotal role in the digital healthcare delivery model. IT must ensure the availability of these digital systems and innovations to deliver care while not compromising patient privacy and the security of patient electronic health and personal data.

Alongside healthcare's ongoing digital transformation, care locations have expanded from the four walls of the acute care setting to ambulatory, telemedicine, and hospital-at-home care settings. While these new care environments optimize patient-centric care delivery, they have also significantly expanded the surface that IT organizations must secure.

Top Healthcare IT Security Challenges

Digital innovation and transformation have created many new opportunities, not only for patients and healthcare providers, but also for bad actors. Today's healthcare leaders need to think about continuous threats, connected devices, and distributed workforce issues when working to comply with regulatory and ethical security challenges.

Continuous Cybersecurity Threats

Due to the vast amount of valuable personal and medical data stored in healthcare providers' digital systems, cybercriminals are focused on profiting from data theft; life-threatening care disruption; and harassment of healthcare leadership, professionals, and even patients through comprehensive attack campaigns. Top observed campaigns leverage ransomware and supply-chain attacks against exposed and vulnerable systems and services. Phishing continues to be the most common attack vector, enabling insider threats, whether deliberate or unintentional.

Diversity of Connected Devices

Healthcare delivery organizations have a highly diverse set of connected devices that typically fall into three categories:

  • Devices managed by IT, such as workstations, servers, laptops, printers, or cameras

  • Devices managed by third-party business associates, such as medical devices or building management systems

  • Unmanageable devices, such as purpose-built fixed-state devices that cannot be patched or legacy medical devices that cannot be decommissioned

Having complete visibility of all connected devices and understanding their use is difficult in the distributed care environment. Even more challenging is implementing consistent security controls to prevent security incidents across the diverse set of connected devices. This makes connected devices a great entry point for cybercriminals to create catastrophic impacts on the healthcare environment.

Distributed Applications and Workforce

The flexibility to enable healthcare professionals to deliver care from anywhere breaks established historical centralized security control models. Software-as-a-service (SaaS), hosted applications, and public cloud-resident applications compound the issue with their centralized data center-delivered security stack architectures. To successfully leverage the digital innovations that enable delivery of care from anywhere, there must be reliable connectivity and consistent distributed security controls that enable appropriate access to patient data, applications, and services.

6 Focus Areas for a Safe, Secure Digital Healthcare Transformation

Security must be transparent and embedded in the digital transformation process, enabling digital innovation instead of inhibiting it. Security must be proactive, preventive, and programmatic within a flexible architecture that enables control over all users, devices, applications, and data regardless of location, while identifying and preventing known and unknown threats in an automated, contextual, data-driven, machine-led fashion.

These six security focus areas can help healthcare organizations achieve secure and safe digital transformation:

  • Implement a Zero Trust strategy: A cybersecurity strategy must eliminate implicit trust and continuously validate any established trust at every stage of their digital interactions through continuous security inspection.

  • Secure all connected devices: Any connected device must be automatically identified; its communications, configuration, associated risk, and utilization continuously understood; and preventive security policies enforced that ensure the availability and security of all connected devices.

  • Enable care delivery from anywhere: Healthcare professionals must be able to securely access patient data and applications to deliver care through a secure access services edge (SASE) that ensures the best digital experience of the clinician and patient.

  • Protect all applications and data: IT must establish consistent visibility and control of applications and data regardless of locations through a centralized set of security policies.

  • Ensure regulatory compliance: IT must continuously validate and achieve compliance through an automated and proactive security approach.

  • Maximize integrations and automation: Healthcare organizations should reduce security tool sprawl and focus on integrated security platforms that deliver automated outcomes. Automating security operations optimizes the use of constrained resources and eliminates analyst burnout.

Security should strengthen your digital transformation efforts, accelerate safe digital innovation, support delivering patient outcomes, and ensure the best experience for both the patient and healthcare professionals. Visit us at Palo Alto Networks to learn more.

About the Author

Jason Wessel is the Principal Global Healthcare Solutions Consultant at Palo Alto Networks focused on designing, building, and operationalizing security solutions that protect the digital architecture of healthcare delivery organizations.

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