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Why the healthcare industry needs a new security prescription

markpainter ‎02-21-2014 11:17 AM - edited ‎07-07-2015 09:20 AM

Three years ago I wrote about how healthcare organizations weren't ready for new security requirements regarding patient information. A new study verifies they're still not. The healthcare industry is a natural target for hackers because of several major factors: the data they collect,  the fact their budgets are under constant threat because of the general rise in costs for all things healthcare related, and recent mandates requiring the transition to Electronic Health RecordsRetail security decisions are often solely based on the impact to the bottom line. How much will added security measures increase our operating expenses and ultimately our pricing and competitiveness? The healthcare industry not only has those concerns, but is also constrained by standards of patient care and the necessity of sharing information to formulate the best medical approach. Long story short, these factors have so far not contributed to successful security endeavors.


What's truly disconcerting about the latest statistics is that it wasn't just one portion of the healthcare ecosystem that was affected...literally every part of patient care was impacted, from how results are managed to the testing equipment itself. Disturbing findings included that basic security measures and best practices too often were not being followed (like not changing default credentials on firewalls - the equivalent of a security no-brainer). Others concerned the prevalence of vulnerabilities in medical devices and the equipment used to communicate results. 


Another item that gave pause were that many of the organizations weren't yet aware they had been compromised. Just as in patient care, early diagnosis matters. It's one of the reasons since 2009 the average amount of time to resolve a successful breach has grown 130%.  It also begs the question...were the vulnerable companies told? But that's fodder for another post.


While identify theft is always a concern, especially considering the type of data the healthcare industry stores, medical data poses a unique problem in its potential for use in targeted social engineering attacks, blackmail attempts, or even  to steal medications. There's simply no more personal information than medical. Apparently, the flap in the back of the gown now has some competition in the 'revealing too much' category.


As with other industries, technological improvements have so far outpaced security. With the continued advent of the Internet of Things, more wired medical devices, and additional avenues for patient interactivity, the attack surface of the healthcare industry is only going to continue to expand. Doctors understand the need for repeated testing and adjusting what doesn't work. Let's hope their IT staffs can learn a similar lesson before the diagnosis becomes tragic.

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