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Advancing Healthcare Cybersecurity: Embracing the Full Spectrum of Zero Trust

By Jaye Tillson, Field CTO at HPE Aruba and Martin Mascarenhas, Customer Engagement Director, Xalient. 

The healthcare industry, which is entrusted with people’s most sensitive data, is no stranger to cyber-attacks and breaches. This is supported by statements made on behalf of the American Hospital Association revealing that healthcare cyberattacks in 2023 affected more than 100 million people. With the healthcare industry collecting medical records, financial information, and even critical patient monitoring data, it is no wonder that the industry is seen as a goldmine of data for cyber criminals, with breaches inflicting unimaginable harm.
On the back of this, the healthcare sector faces formidable challenges in safeguarding sensitive data. Given the wealth of personal and critical information held by healthcare entities, the imperative for robust cybersecurity measures cannot be overstated. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) platforms are pivotal in this regard as they encompass a comprehensive approach to security. Moreover, Identity and Access Management (IAM), including Identity Governance and Administration (IGA), Access Management (AM), and Privileged Access Management (PAM) play an indispensable role in fortifying the Zero Trust framework.

Redefining Trust: The Zero Trust Imperative

Conventional cybersecurity paradigms lean heavily on perimeter defences, confining security measures to network boundaries. However, with the rise of telehealth and the increased adoption of cloud computing, the inadequacies of this static approach to cybersecurity have become evident. Zero Trust Network Access introduces a paradigm shift of prioritising continuous identity verification and authorisation irrespective of a user’s location. This dynamic approach underscores the essence of Zero Trust, where trust is never assumed, and access is meticulously validated at every interaction point.

Zero Trust architecture has rapidly become the foundation of modern cybersecurity, with secure networking and identity security as the cornerstone which establishes secure tunnels between users and applications. As such, users will have to undergo rigorous authentication and be granted explicit authorisation to be able to access specific applications and data required to perform their job, while broad access to systems and information that aren’t part of the job is limited. This secure access approach also applies to those that are outside the traditional corporate network.
The Role of Identity and Access Management in Zero Trust Architecture

At the heart of Zero Trust lies Identity and Access Management (IAM), a multifaceted framework encompassing IGA, AM and PAM functionalities. IAM facilitates continuous risk assessment, ensuring that access privileges are granted judiciously within an environment. By embracing Zero Trust principles, healthcare entities will benefit from the granular access control which mitigates the risk of unauthorised data access and aligns with stringent regulatory requirements.
Further, IAM’s integration with Zero Trust not only bolsters data security but also enhances remote access protocols which are vital for the expanding the landscape of telehealth services and other remote access technologies which are becoming more prevalent in the healthcare industry. For example, with Zero Trust and IAM measures in place, remote healthcare workers will only have access to the specific data and applications needed to perform their jobs without jeopardising the entire network’s security. At the same time, this approach eliminates the need for traditional VPNs, which simplifies network architecture and lowers management costs.

Secure Telehealth and Clinical Data with Zero Trust

As the healthcare industry continues to adapt and implement new technologies such as telehealth and remote patient monitoring to improve patient support, it also needs to implement security solutions that help to protect its patient data from cyberthreats. Zero Trust, coupled with IAM applications, provides a safeguarding mechanism wherein only authorised personnel can access sensitive information, thereby building a strong line of defence and minimising the risk of data breaches.
Similarly, in clinical trial settings, Zero Trust architecture ensures the confidentiality of highly sensitive data, limiting access to authorised researchers only, while preventing potential data leaks.

Implementing Zero Trust in healthcare: Key considerations

Maximising the benefits of Zero Trust and IAM applications requires careful deliberation and strategic planning. As such healthcare entities should consider a few key factors. First, select reputable vendors that offer robust security solutions tailored to industry specific requirements, including compliance requirements. Next, as Zero Trust is a relatively new technology, user training and awareness programmes are imperative to foster a culture of security consciousness. Likewise, the solution must seamlessly integrate with existing security infrastructure to achieve unified security management.

Furthermore, diligent identification of unmanaged devices is a critical prerequisite for successful deployment of Zero Trust to overcome the challenge of the many devices that were introduced to healthcare networks during the pandemic without IT management visibility or proper documentation. These add to the complexity of data security as IT and security teams often do not have visibility of exactly where these devices are, how and why they connect to the network, what type of business they perform, what type of data is being processed and stored locally, and what type of vulnerabilities are present on these devices. Removing the risk of these vulnerable devices in the network must be a priority for the healthcare sector.

Harnessing AI for Enhanced Security

Beyond these key factors, healthcare entities stand to benefit from augmenting Zero Trust with AI-driven IAM solutions to proactively identify and mitigate security threats. Leveraging AI aids in the continuous analysis of network patterns and user behaviour, identifying trends and correlations between data and access context to detect anomalies that are indicative of potential breaches. This predictive approach enables proactive threat mitigation and bolsters overall cyber and business resilience.

As the healthcare industry continues its digital transformation, safeguarding patient data is paramount to the sector. Embracing the holistic approach of Zero Trust, complemented by a robust IAM framework, empowers organisations to fortify their defences and instil confidence in patients regarding data security. By embracing the principles of Zero Trust beyond ZTNA and integrating IAM functionalities, healthcare entities can navigate the evolving threat landscape with resilience and vigilance, ensuring the sanctity of sensitive medical information. This not only builds stronger security defences but also gives patients peace of mind that their sensitive information is secure.

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Mark Foulsham

Board Advisor, NED, COO/CIO, Fractional Support, Digital Leadership Coach

With a broad background as a COO/CIO/CDO, C-Suite Advisor, NED, Senior Transformation Leader and Coach, Mark tackles multiple fronts from the advantage of diverse experience in business operations, technology, procurement, delivery and risk. With a deep knowledge of business models from multiple sectors and extensive experience in fast-paced digital start-ups.

Mark’s work across extensive business types, functions and countries empowers him with experience to bear across silos. Mark has built a reputation for advocating cross-business collaboration, taking a pragmatic approach and championing transformative change.