Protecting Patient Data in Healthcare Networks: The Role of Microsegmentation

The importance of protecting patient data in healthcare cannot be overstated. According to a report by Critical Insight, 28.5 million Americans were affected by data breaches in the second half of 2022 alone. These attacks are especially damaging because they can lead to long-term issues such as identity theft or financial fraud for patients whose personal information has been compromised when they are at their most vulnerable.

To protect patient data from unauthorized access and ensure compliance with relevant regulations, healthcare organizations must implement a comprehensive data security strategy. This should include steps such as:

  1. Ensuring physical security on-site
  2. Establishing strong authentication protocols
  3. Regularly patching software vulnerabilities
  4. Limiting user access rights based on roles and responsibilities

This article discusses how a healthcare micro-segmentation network can go a long way in ensuring these protocols are met, and patient privacy stays out of the hands of the wrong people.

Understanding Microsegmentation

Microsegmentation is a technique used to divide a network into smaller, more secure segments, generally containing a single device type or role. It involves assessing the security risk of each device and implementing measures to ensure that only necessary traffic can pass through its segment. This differs from macro segmentation, where the divisions are based on larger-scale groupings. Rather, microsegmentation provides granular visibility into network activity by enabling administrators to control what happens within each segment.

For healthcare networks, micro-segmentation can be an invaluable tool in providing better security against cyber threats such as ransomware or data breaches. By using micro-segmentation, healthcare networks can create individualized segments for different departments, user groups, applications, or devices.

Prerequisites to Microsegmentation

Before reaching the step of microsegmentation, organizations should take certain steps to ensure that their network access control (NAC) is fully implemented. NAC allows for effective access control and enforcement of policies across a healthcare organization’s network. This can be achieved through the authentication of users, devices, and applications. It ensures that only authorized personnel are allowed on the network, with each user having appropriate access rights based on their role within the organization.

Once a robust NAC system is in place, organizations can consider implementing microsegmentation. Healthcare microsegmentation utilizes virtual boundaries to divide an IT environment into smaller areas or zones. It also provides additional security measures by creating multiple layers of protection.

Managing Risks in Healthcare Networks

IT professionals should know the potential limitations and challenges when implementing microsegmentation. Microsegmentation is not a silver bullet for security risks, and it does have its limits. It will primarily limit the “blast radius” of a successful attack, rather than preventing it entirely. 

Furthermore, creating and managing a microsegmentation network can be a resource-intensive approach as it requires customizing policies for each device type and model. This process can take many hours per device model, and it can be difficult to ensure policies are up-to-date and compliant for the specific device you are working on. To simplify the process, organizations should use device management tools and conduct regular policy audits to identify and address any gaps in their policy management strategy. By doing so, they can mitigate security risks and maintain compliance with industry regulations quickly.

As outlined in the prior section, a robust and fully implemented NAC is required before a healthcare organization can start to even think about initiating micro-egmentation. This is as time-consuming as it is complex, and the installation of a NAC must be done thoughtfully and completely.  Without a buttoned-up NAC solution, microsegmentation may not end up providing sufficient security measures to protect healthcare networks, which would be counter-productive.

Lastly, IT professionals should be aware of the potential impact a microsegmented network can have on clinical functions. This is especially important in healthcare environments where critical patient data needs to be protected at all times. Microsegmentation can help improve security, but it can also potentially disrupt existing clinical operations that rely on unrestricted access to certain systems and resources. It is therefore important for IT professionals to weigh the pros and cons carefully before implementing such solutions. It’s also recommended that clinicians be consulted throughout the entire implementation process. More on that in the section below.

Implementing Microsegmentation in Healthcare

When it comes to implementing a healthcare microsegmentation network, there are five critical steps to follow.

Step 1: Preparing for implementation

A holistic and overarching approach to implementation should be outlined from the onset. This initial plan should get signed off by key stakeholders in the IT, Management, Administrative, and Medical departments. This plan must outline the patient needs and security goals, creating the baseline for the microsegmentation strategy. Furthermore, this plan should also include a risk assessment, addressing any possible pitfalls or blind spots that could create a problem down the road. 

Step 2: Identify the Critical Devices and Assets

Categorize the resources from those that need the highest levels of protection to those that do not. If your organization enlists equipment such as Insulin pumps, intracardiac defibrillators, mobile cardiac telemetry, pacemakers, intrathecal pain pumps, and many others – those should be at the top of the list of the devices whose data is the most valuable, and vulnerable as these can be lifesaving devices.

Step 3: Evaluating Clinical Impacts

As outlined in the prior section, a comprehensive understanding of the clinical impacts must stay front of mind during any microsegmentation installation. A healthcare organization is first and foremost focused on the health of its patients, and a byproduct of that mission is ensuring that all data is secure. Once the clinical devices and assets most at risk are identified, there must be a robust discussion on how secure these devices need to be. Ultimately, the data must be available to the people that need it (clinicians, patients) when they need it, so a microsegmentation strategy must be able to support that while keeping bad actors out.

Step 4: Applying Microsegmentation

It is important to define the network segments and configure the devices accordingly. This may involve creating different IP subnets for each segment, as well as configuring access controls and security measures such as firewalls and authentication protocols.

Step 5: Testing and Validation

Post-implementation tests are critical for ensuring effective microsegmentation of a healthcare network. Through post-implementation testing, a healthcare system can measure the effectiveness of the segmentation and help validate that all security measures have been implemented correctly.

Maintaining a Microsegmented Network

Maintaining a secure environment for patient data is essential for healthcare organizations. To maximize the effectiveness of microsegmentation, it is important to keep up with any changes or advancements in technology. As new threats emerge and hackers become more sophisticated, the microsegmentation network should be updated accordingly. Organizations should also regularly monitor their networks for signs of suspicious activity or unauthorized access attempts. 

A Holistic Approach to IoMT Security

Device hardening is an important step in securing medical devices. However, additional steps can be taken to protect the overall IoMT (Internet of Medical Things) environment, including:

  • Tracking inventory
  • Vulnerability audits
  • Initial and ongoing vetting of key vendors
  • Cybersecurity awareness training for all staff members

Although the tactics above are important, microsegmentation remains the key cog in maintaining patient privacy and data security. To learn more about how to use microsegmentation and other strategies for reducing the risk associated with medical devices, download our free eBook on Securing Medical Devices. In this ebook, you will find tips on best practices for microsegmentation, as well as recommendations for setting up a secure IoMT environment. And don’t miss out on the insights provided in the Cybersecurity IoMT Webinar Series where Sr Director of Solutions Engineering, Luke Smith dives into these 8 Steps further! Watch it on demand now.

Mitigate Medical Device Cyber Risk with Asimily

Asimily offers a holistic IoMT risk remediation platform that empowers hospitals to secure their devices and deliver safe, reliable care. With its comprehensive features, Asimily facilitates inventory management, anomaly identification & incident response, vulnerability management, microsegmentation network creation, and enforcement of policies.

To create a secure environment for medical professionals to operate safely and securely, Asimily provides microsegmentation of networks within the hospital setting. This ensures that all medical technology is properly isolated from each other with no cross-talk between them. Asimily also allows for streamlined security and IoMT segmentation policies through automated alerts when changes occur in the system or if any anomalies are detected.

Asimily also provides forensic analysis to reveal the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by an attacker. This helps administrators identify potential security risks to take preventative measures. Lastly, Asimily offers reporting capabilities that can be used to show leadership how risk reduction is being managed within the hospital setting. By using these reporting tools, hospitals can stay up-to-date on the latest trends and adjust their policies accordingly to keep devices safe and secure.

With Asimily, you can deliver better, more secure care. By using the five steps above to create a complete healthcare microsegmentation network, you can let your team do what they were born to do, and not be bogged down by data concerns. Start taking a proactive approach to healthcare security today by getting a free consultation with Asimily.

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