• Webinar: Krankenhauszukunftsgesetz (KHZG)

The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) : Safeguarding increasingly vulnerable IT systems

Healthcare organisations face a breadth of cyber challenges. Challenges include shrinking IT budgets, ensuring total data compliance, dealing with increased risk of cyber-attacks, all while protecting the world’s most precious information – highly sensitive medical data considered as gold by cybercriminals. With the digitalisation of the healthcare industry, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has become a huge focus-growth area in the healthcare industry. Connected devices used by nurses and doctors – from remote patient monitoring devices to hospital sensors – have transformed the industry for the better, improving healthcare outcomes for many patients.

However, IoMT devices are also a major security concern. The number of health organisations around the world targeted by cyber-attacks rose 90% in the three months. Data from Irdeto reveals that a staggering 80% of med tech firms have suffered a cyber-attack in the past five years, and thousands of new technological devices that are connected to large, singular networks have left healthcare organisations even more exposed to cyber-attacks.

Access points aplenty

A hyper-connected healthcare industry with thousands of access points is a highly lucrative target for threat actors who have refined their extortion tactics. Patient data is extremely valuable, and a typical electronic health record (EHR) for an individual contains highly sensitive data such as name, home address and date of birth – plenty of information for cybercriminals to harvest.

Also, one of the biggest potential vulnerabilities of the health industry is its complex IT infrastructure that has a very high number of access points and connected devices. Operational technologies include connected MRIs, iPads and desktop computers used by staff members, wireless routers in hospitals, and other electronic devices that can be connected to a singular network.

Ransomware also remains as the main cyber threat for hospitals, and the Irish healthcare system’s most recent hack exposed how much of a target the healthcare industry really is.

The impact of operational technology

It is important to remember how much the IoMT and operational technology, or OT, have transformed the healthcare industry, especially in recent times. OT has facilitated ground-breaking medical research, allowed workers and patients to connect during one of the most challenging periods the industry has faced in centuries and has also enabled staff to partake in remote working – something that was previously considered unachievable for many healthcare organisations.

But transformative medical technology comes with great responsibility, and it is critical healthcare professionals must shore up on their cybersecurity knowledge as threat actors keep tabs on vulnerable healthcare networks that they can exploit. Engaging cybersecurity training, from phishing simulation videos to group training sessions on how to properly use OT systems, can make a positive impact on generating cybersecurity awareness among healthcare professionals.

However, doctors and nurses that use vulnerable work devices and networks are busy providing patient care and often lack the time to fully bolster up on their security knowledge. This poses a particular challenge for overstretched IT security teams, especially as insider threats are responsible for over half (60%) of data breaches.

Small and often overworked IT teams are yet another potential vulnerability for the industry if they fail to keep up with all the demands that sufficient cybersecurity requires. Often having budgets slashed and being required to do more with less, IT teams require additional help when safeguarding the world’s most valuable data.

So, how can the healthcare industry effectively protect vulnerable IT infrastructure whilst using IoMT devices, remaining compliant and safeguarding precious patient data with a declining budget and high risk of insider threat? The solution is privilege access management.

Technology solutions for first-class defence

A robust privileged access management (PAM) solution can meet all necessary security requirements. Setting up an access manager component will give security teams visibility into, and control over, privileged access. Managers can then define privileges for any user, ensuring that the user can only see the systems and complete tasks for which they authorised to do so.

In addition to assigning privileges, security teams also require visibility into login activity, and any actions from privileged users make while they are in the system. This helps security teams to identify unusual activity on the network before a potential security incident happens.

Healthcare organisations can further boost their security by adopting real-time and automated session management capabilities. This means that session manager can detect and monitor inappropriate activity on its own, along with having the power to automatically terminate such a session or to raise real-time alerts, so that administrators can take a closer look at it before taking necessary action. Being able to automatically shut down unusual session activity on OT or to raise real-time alerts for security teams is critical for healthcare organisations as this can stop threat actors in their tracks.

What’s more, PAM solutions that can record all sessions give an audit trail for regulatory compliance and can be used as a training tool for employees. This will educate and help healthcare workers to recognise whether pieces of equipment, such as MRI scanners, have been updated incorrectly or suffered a true mechanical malfunction – another useful method of identifying unusual activity that may be a threat to the organisation.

For solutions to be appropriate, they need to be low impact so that service delivery is not affected. Solutions must also be easily and quickly implemented, results-oriented to ensure vulnerabilities are mitigated, and incorporate security-by-design principles, to minimize IT workload whilst maximising security throughout systems.

Education on cyber-risk is also key to overcoming the challenges healthcare professionals face. Training that is engaging is proven to be highly effective, and healthcare organisations can bolster security by regularly test the security skills and knowledge of employees via phishing simulation videos.

Combining technology and education for maximum impact

The IoMT has transformed the healthcare industry organisations during the pandemic, but new systems and devices that are now widely adopted by healthcare organisations have created new risks and challenges. Attack surfaces have widened as cybercriminals kept a close eye on vulnerable networks, and the entire healthcare industry need to act fast to shore up defences.

Therefore, it is essential that the healthcare industry combines an effective cyber security platform with training if we are to stay ahead of today’s evolving threat landscape. Any comprehensive cyber strategy should provide secure remote access, enable audits and compliance, and keep all employees up to date on the risks through training. Armed with secure solutions and regular cyber-security training, healthcare organisations can be fully equipped to function in a digital-first world and fight off any external threats.