Navigating IoT device security challenges in healthcare

Doctor working on laptop
Image Credit: Pixabay (Image credit: Image Credit: Pixabay)

Over the past decade, the healthcare sector has increasingly become dependent on Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including smart medical equipment that relays data to IT equipment which stores it in electronic medical record systems. This proliferation has undoubtedly enhanced the quality of healthcare services, but also exposed the sector to unmountable security challenges.

A cyberattack on smart medical devices can have severe consequences, from disrupting critical patient treatment to increasing operational costs. So, how can the healthcare industry increase resilience to this ever-increasing threat landscape?

Impact of cyberattacks on the healthcare industry

There's been an alarming surge in cyberattacks on the healthcare sector, with a distinctive rise in ransomware incidents. These criminal activities jeopardize patient services and care delivery, posing a profound risk to the healthcare providers and the wider public.

Unlike other cyber threats, attacks on healthcare infrastructure can directly impact human life. For example, a ransomware attack could hit a hospital and impact the laptop controlling a heart bypass machine. This could result in the machine becoming uncontrollable or ceasing to circulate blood, which could then threaten a patient’s life. Callous criminals count on the urgency of healthcare providers to meet ransom demands in order to reinstate disrupted patient services.

As well as disruption to patient services, medical data is an extremely lucrative target for cybercriminal groups. It can be sold on the dark web to earn a quick payday or used to commit other crimes such as fraud or identity theft. Not only do such data breaches benefit criminals, but it also puts pressure on healthcare providers.

Patients that have had their data stolen feel like their trust has been broken, and if the breach's source is found within the healthcare institution, it could face stringent regulatory penalties. For instance, last year, Manx Care was penalized with a £170k fine as a patient's confidential health data was circulated to 1,870 recipients via an insecure email attachment.

With an ever-growing threat against the industry, the issue of IoT security is one that is a priority to healthcare providers. However, securing these devices has proven to be a particularly difficult problem to solve.

Jon Taylor

Jon Taylor is Director and Principal of Security at Versa Networks.

Why the healthcare industry struggles with IoT security

The challenge of securing IoT devices is particularly challenging due to the complexity of healthcare networks. Highly-priced medical apparatus, such as MRI and CAT scanners, cost millions, which means ‘rip and replace’ is not really an option.

Furthermore, updating and patching these ageing and vulnerable devices provides plenty of headaches for security teams, as software embedded in these devices was not designed with security and accessibility in mind.

Finally, stringent regulations, set in place to safeguard patient data, add a layer of complexity to securing IoT devices. Compliance with these rules can be extremely overwhelming, especially while managing various devices from diverse manufacturers, each carrying unique security facets and vulnerabilities.

Despite these challenges, in the face of a breach that could potentially harm patients and impose severe financial damage, healthcare providers must strive to enhance their cyber resilience.

Closing security gaps in healthcare IoT

Addressing the security needs of the healthcare sector necessitates a comprehensive, layered solution capable of managing a vast and intricate IT infrastructure. The solution also needs to be economically viable and manageable for IT and security teams operating under resource constraints.

A practical solution to reconciling these conflicting demands is the adoption of Unified Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). Unified SASE merges network security and wide area networking (WAN) functionalities into a unified cloud-native service. It proposes an all-inclusive strategy for securing varied remote access points, including IoT devices.

Unified SASE platforms converge various security features such as advanced threat protection and Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) services for real-time threat detection and neutralization. Moreover, URL filtering is another valuable feature, limiting user access to specific websites to avoid exposure to malicious online content. Finally, Unified SASE also provides Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) functionalities for visibility and control over cloud services, ensuring the protection of sensitive data.

How can Unified SASE help the healthcare sector?

Unified SASE can help address the main concerns of the healthcare sector – improving security whilst keeping the costs down.

By incorporating security controls like micro-segmentation, Unified SASE helps limit the impact of online attacks. Micro-segmentation is particularly beneficial for healthcare providers with numerous interconnected devices. If an attack compromises any medical IoT asset, the threat is confined to a single network segment, reducing the fallout and allowing other vital patient services to proceed unhindered.

Furthermore, it helps in averting high-risk situations such as ransomware attacks. Unified SASE can identify and neutralize threats before they inflict damage by utilizing robust security measures such as advanced threat protection and intrusion prevention. This secures the organization's data and systems, ultimately ensuring the uninterrupted delivery of patient care.

Lastly, Unified SASE can lower the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). By consolidating various security services into a single platform, healthcare entities can optimize their security operations and decrease the expenses of managing multiple security solutions. It can also support security teams that are over-stretched, by allowing them to focus on more critical tasks.

Enhancing cybersecurity measures, safeguarding patient data and ensuring consistent care are all key priorities for the healthcare sector. By implementing technologies such as Unified SASE, healthcare providers have a viable solution which can navigate the security challenges posed by IoT devices, whilst also maintaining outstanding patient care.

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Jon Taylor is Director and Principal of Security at Versa Networks.