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Exec Tells Congress That New Health Data Threats Are Emerging

Posted on June 20, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A senior security executive with a major academic health system has told Congress that in addition to attacks by random attackers, healthcare organizations are facing new threats which are changing the health security landscape.

Erik Decker, chief security and privacy officer with the University of Chicago Medicine, testified on behalf of the Association for Executives in Healthcare Information Security in mid-June. He made his comments in support of the reauthorization of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, whose purpose is to improve the U.S. public health and medical preparedness for emergencies.

In his testimony, Decker laid out how the nature of provider and public health preparedness has changed as digital health technology has become the backbone of the industry.

He described how healthcare information use has evolved, explaining to legislators how the digitization of healthcare has created a “hyper-connected” environment in which systems such as EHRs, revenue cycle platforms, imaging and ERP software are linked to specialty applications, the cloud and connected medical devices.

He also told them about the increasing need for healthcare organizations to share data smoothly, and the impact this has had on the healthcare data infrastructure. “There is increasing reliance on these data being available, and confidential, to support these nuanced clinical workflows,” he said. “With the adoption of this technology, the technical ecosystem has exploded in complexity.”

While the emergence of these complex digital health offers many advantages, it has led to a growth in the number and type of cybersecurity problems providers face, Decker noted. New threats he identified include:

* The development of underground markets and exchanges of sensitive information and services such as Hacking-as-a Service
* The emergence of sophisticated hacking groups deploying ransomware
* New cyberattacks by terrorist organizations
* Efforts by nation states to steal intellectual property to create national economic advantages

This led to the key point of his testimony: “We can no longer think of preparedness relative only to natural disasters or pandemics,” Decker said. “It’s imperative that we acknowledge the criticality of cybersecurity threats levied against the nation’s healthcare system.”

To address such problems, Decker suggests, healthcare organizations will need help from the federal government. For example, he pointed out, HHS efforts made a big difference when it jumped in quickly and worked closely with healthcare leaders responding to WannaCry attacks in mid-2017.

Meanwhile, to encourage the healthcare industry to adopt strong cybersecurity practices, it’s important to offer providers some incentives, including a financial subsidy or safe harbors from enforcement actions, he argued.

Health IT Leaders Fear Insider Security Threats More Than Cyberattacks

Posted on June 8, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

A recently-published survey suggests that while most health IT security leaders feel confident they can handle external attacks, they worry about insider threats.

Cybersecurity vendor Imperva spoke with 102 health IT professionals at the recent HIMSS show to find out what their most pressing security concerns were and how prepared they were to address them.

The survey found that 73% of organizations had a senior information security leader such as a CISO in place. Another 14% were hoping to hire one within the next 12 months. Only 14% said they didn’t have a senior infosec pro in place and weren’t looking to hire.

Given how many organizations have or plan to have a security professional in place, it’s not surprising to read that 93% of respondents were either “very concerned” or “concerned” about a cyberattack affecting their organization. The type of cyberattacks that concerned them most included ransomware (32%), insider threats (25%), comprised applications (19%) and DDoS attacks (13%). (Eleven percent of responses fell into the “other” category.)

Despite their concerns, however, the tech pros felt they were prepared for most of these threats, with 52% that they were “very confident” or had “above average” confidence they could handle any attack, along with 32% stating that their defenses were “adequate.”  Just 9% said that their cybersecurity approach needed work, followed by 6% reporting that their defenses needed to be rebuilt.

Thirty-eight percent of the health IT pros said they’d been hit with a cyberattack during the past year, with another 4% reporting having been attacked more than a year ago.

Given the prevalence of cyberthreats, three-quarters of respondents said they had a cybersecurity incident response plan in place, with another 12% saying they planned to develop one during the next 12 months. Only 14% didn’t have a plan nor was creating one on their radar.

When it came to external threats, on the other hand, respondents seemed to be warier and less prepared. They were most worried about careless users (51%), compromised users (25%) and malicious users (24%).

Their concerns seem to be compounded by a sense that insider threats can be hard to detect. Catching insiders was difficult for a number of reasons, including having a large number of employees, contractors and business partners with access to their network (24%), more company assets on the network or in the cloud than previously (24%), lack of staff to analyze permissions data on employee access (25%) and a lack of tools to monitor insider activities (27%).

The respondents said the most time-consuming tasks involved in investigating/responding to insider threats included collecting information from diverse security tools (32%), followed by tuning security tools (26%), forensics or incident analysis (24%) and managing too many security alerts (17%).

Healthcare Orgs May Be Ramping Up Cybersecurity Efforts

Posted on August 18, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

As I’ve noted (too) many times in the past, healthcare organizations don’t have a great track record when it comes to cybersecurity. Compared to other industries, healthcare organizations spend relatively little on IT security overall, and despite harangues from people like myself, this has remained the case for many years.

However, a small new survey by HIMSS suggests that the tide may be turning. It’s not incredibly surprising to hear, as health it leaders have been facing increasingly frequent cybersecurity attacks. A case in point: In a recent study by Netwrix Corp., more than half of healthcare organizations reported struggling with malware, and that’s just one of many ongoing cyber security threats.

The HIMSS cybersecurity survey, which tallies responses from 126 IT leaders, concluded that security professionals are focusing on medical device security, and that patient safety, data breaches and malware were their top three concerns.

In the survey, HIMSS found that 71% of respondents were allocating some of their budgets toward cybersecurity and that 80% said that their organization employed dedicated cybersecurity staff.

Meanwhile, 78% of respondents were able to identify a cybersecurity staffing ratio (i.e. the number of cybersecurity specialists versus other employees), and 53% said the ratio was 1:500 which, according to HIMSS is considered the right ratio for information-centric, risk-averse businesses with considerable Internet exposure.

Also of note, it seems that budgets for cybersecurity are getting more substantial. Of the 71% of respondents whose organizations are budgeting for cybersecurity efforts, 60% allocated 3% or more of their overall budget to the problem. And that’s not all. Eleven percent of respondents said that they were allocating more than 10% of the budget to cybersecurity, which is fairly impressive.

Other stats from the survey included that 60% of respondents said their organizations employed a senior information security leader such as a Chief Information Security Officer.  In its press release covering the survey, it noted that CISOs and other top security leaders are adopting cybersecurity programs that cut across several areas, including procurement and education/training. The security leaders are also adopting the NIST Cybersecurity Framework.

According to HIMSS, 85% of respondents said they conduct a risk assessment at least once a year, and that 75% of them regularly conduct penetration testing. Meanwhile, 75% said they had some type of insider threat management program in place within their healthcare organization.

One final note: In the report, HIMSS noted that acute care providers had more specific concerns was cybersecurity than non-acute care providers. Over the next few years, as individual practices merge with larger ones, and everyone gets swept up into ACOs, I wonder if that distinction will even matter anymore.

My take is that when smaller organizations work with big ones, everyone’s tech is set up reach the level better-capitalized players have achieved, and that will standardize everyone’s concerns. What do you think?