Simplifying zero trust security in healthcare organizations

Healthcare is changing
— and by extension, their IT operations and technology stacks. As a result, medical organizations are looking for a new recipe that can help thwart ransomware attacks, protect sensitive protected health information (PHI), and prevent costly and potentially life-threatening downtime. the Zero trust security model
is rapidly filling this role for medical cybersecurity.

The changing landscape of healthcare cybersecurity
Healthcare organizations differ from typical companies when it comes to handling large amounts of data. You face unique cybersecurity challenges that require a compliance-first strategy.

First and foremost, Protected Health Information (PHI) must be carefully protected. Health care organizations must comply with various regulations regarding their use, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). At the same time, PHI is also becoming more and more valuable to cybercriminals, much more valuable than credit card data. Successful cyberattacks that steal this type of data can be lucrative for criminals.

In such a highly regulated landscape, healthcare organizations are also changing the way they operate. They are adopting cloud-based applications and services to simplify IT operations, increase clinician productivity, and improve patient care and outcomes. More and more organizations and doctors are turning to telemedicine visits and remote monitoring of patients using internet-connected sensors. As new cloud applications merge with the existing healthcare IT architecture—which includes numerous on-premises and legacy applications that organizations have been using for years—the number of vulnerable attack surfaces increases.

Today’s healthcare organizations also rely on third-party providers and outsourced staff to perform day-to-day operations, making identity access management difficult to implement.

A simplified Zero Trust approach
With so many moving parts in today’s healthcare landscape, organizations need a cybersecurity solution that is dynamic, modern, and extensible. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Zero Trust Framework fills this need. It assumes that all users, endpoints and workloads are inherently untrustworthy whenever and wherever they access corporate resources or applications.

With this security model, users are authenticated, authorized and validated regardless of network boundaries. With Zero Trust, the goal is to reduce attack surfaces, improve contextual decisions for higher and more accurate response automation, and limit lateral movement when a resource is compromised.

A simplified zero trust approach can tick many boxes if used correctly. It needs to work seamlessly, both for end users – like doctors and other healthcare providers – and for IT professionals. It must keep in mind the different layers at which an intrusion can occur: the endpoint, the identity, the network, or the data layer. Leveraging cloud-native security controls to monitor all relevant attack vectors helps accelerate detection and response without the burden of massive log management and complex system administration.

If a breach does occur, the Zero Trust approach limits the attack surface. For example, if your building catches fire on the ground floor, you need to find ways to insulate the rest of the building. Limiting the attack surface with identity segmentation
helps get there, similar to how a fire door works during a fire. Identity segmentation focuses on securing a user or application’s relatively immutable credentials. This differs from network segmentation, where network components can change frequently.

Real-time assessments are also key to developing an intelligent zero trust approach. Sometimes you allow access for two hours, but an endpoint user’s credentials can be compromised in seconds. In such cases, understanding what types of information are being accessed—and why—helps to build context. Real-time analytics and understanding of changing access permissions help automate responses to allow, block, or contest a request and help expedite investigations by SecOps teams when needed.

Healthcare organizations can implement Zero Trust in phases and address urgent needs as quickly as possible. You can start by getting a holistic view of all users and assets, including all on-premises and cloud-based workloads and identities. You can then also deploy advanced artificial intelligence-based threat detection and prevention capabilities to defend against ransomware attacks, either at the endpoint layer or at the identity layer. After that, legacy applications can be covered and user productivity optimized.

The belief that every point of access to a network is inherently untrustworthy helps healthcare organizations develop an intelligent and frictionless approach to cybersecurity that puts compliance first. It’s no wonder that healthcare organizations are increasingly relying on Zero Trust as a powerful remedy for their complex security challenges.

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