At all times, patient information was essential to providing informed, personalized, and efficient medical care. By virtue of the rapid advancements of the health technology, many modern devices not only monitor patients’ physiological condition, but also capture, collect, and transmit this data to providers’ databases. On the one hand, this major automation alleviated some of the pressure of medical staff and enhanced the accuracy and compliance of the gathered data, but on the other provided a foothold to previously unknown security threats.
What can make medical devices your Achilles heel?
Connected healthcare equipment came to be one of the most common targets for cybercriminals, who leverage them to infiltrate into medical institution networks, harm patients, or, most commonly, steal protected health-related information. Every successful attack seriously tarnishes a medical facility’s reputation and costs an insane amount of money. According to IBM’s 2020 report, the average total cost of a data breach in the healthcare industry amounts to $6.45 million, which is the highest figure across all industries.
What aggravates the situation is that many medical devices have inherent security faults. Some, for instance, were not equipped with sufficient protection layers, while others have patching or upgrading limitations and can run embedded software only. Moreover, since healthcare tools tend to have decade-long operating lives, their safeguards sooner than later become outdated and inadequate for meeting continuously shifting security requirements.
This leaves healthcare providers to fend for themselves. To prove truly safe for both patients and healthcare facilities, medical devices demand a multifaceted security strategy. Data governance, admit security specialists from a1qa, lies at the heart of IT risk management but, unfortunately, the practice tends to be overlooked or misunderstood by medical practitioners.
Let’s now explore the tactics of medical device data governance that will allow you to forestall common security threats and boost the overall efficiency of your data management policy.
4 ways to safeguard your medical device data
Ensure gadget network visibility
Today, medical providers find it increasingly difficult to keep track of all the smart devices connected to the hospital network. More often than not, devices go unaccounted due to a lack of supervision or unwillingness to take dedicated effort. In the meantime, it is extremely challenging to provide medical data safety without a clear picture of the system it flows through.
To achieve this mission-critical visibility, you should conduct a comprehensive inventory of the connected medical equipment deployed at your healthcare facility. Apart from counting the number of devices in operation and noting down their types, make sure to map out the network topology, detailing how machines communicate with each other and external systems. Furthermore, the inventory should account for all the outdated or particularly vulnerable medical devices as well as the weak points in the network itself.
This way, you can get a birds-eye view of how the data is generated, transmitted, and processed, and gain a better insight into its place in your clinical workflow. Cybersecurity specialists, in their turn, can leverage the information to better address data exposure risks at hand. Such an inventory needs to be updated on a regular basis or each time there are sufficient changes in the connected hospital assets.
Regularly revise access controls
Role-based access control is a common method of securing healthcare facilities and information systems around the world. In terms of medical devices, both physical and digital access restrictions are essential for safeguarding the generated data. However, as time goes on, employees may come and go or get promoted, or the facility layout changes. This renders the established access controls outdated and compromise medical equipment data security. Thus, to always keep the system efficient, it’s necessary to make sure to routinely bring it up to date.
For one thing, revisit the current list of users who have access to both medical devices and the data they generate. Shared and orphaned accounts may serve as a foothold for those with malicious intent from inside and outside of your hospital, so they should be denied admission as soon as they are detected.
Also, filter out the low-level medical and technical staff who do need daily access to data or devices: it’s safer to grant them access upon request. Moreover, to render the login process resilient and more secure for personnel with broad permissions, introduce more sophisticated authentication technologies, such as multi-factor or biometric authorization.
Maintain data hygiene
Healthcare facilities accumulate swaths of medical device data daily, but not all of it proves fit for use. A measurable portion can turn out to be “dirty”: incomplete, inaccurate, or duplicated. Moreover, according to the 2019 global data risk report by Varonis, 72% of folders in an average company contain stale data — the outdated information no longer required for daily operations.
As a rule, this unserviceable patient information is stored together with the valuable one, increasing maintenance costs and hampering informed decision-making. But above all, it boosts the load on the facility’s security system as well as poses an easy target for data thieves, who can leverage it to gain access to the local network.
Keeping medical device data healthy is a taxing task to perform manually, so it is best if healthcare facilities streamline the cleansing process. The specialized software will analyze the quality of data received from medical devices, automatically filter out erroneous records, and standardize good data according to a uniform format to level up its usability.
Switch to a cloud storage
Traditionally, healthcare facilities preferred to store their data on premises. Yet, with the widespread introduction of connected medical devices, the amount of accumulated data grows exponentially, and the in-house storage solutions are no longer up to the task.
Today, such on-premises systems fail to provide the required performance and scalability, but most importantly, they no longer prove as impregnable as they were. Medical facilities rely on a complex set of firewalls, antivirus software, and encryption to protect their local networks from the increasing incidence of malware and phishing attacks. Such systems are hard and costly to maintain and are vulnerable to human errors and insider malicious activities. Since medical device data is highly sensitive, health providers need to embrace the more reliable cloud-based solutions.
For one thing, cloud storage provides all-round security of vast amounts of data and facilitate the compliance with regional and universal data storage regulations. A fair share of cloud storage services not only comply with HIPAA, but also offer the Business Associate Agreement for signing, which is the contract legally binding the provider to properly secure the stored PHI.
Apart from this, cloud-based solutions offer an unlimited data storage capacity, on-demand scalability, and data interoperability — the capabilities that today prove life-saving in both routine operations and the times of a crisis.