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Seven Top Ways ZTNA Plays A Pivotal Role In Healthcare

  • 30 Jan 2024

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With the evolving threat landscape, there has been a significant surge in data breaches across all industries, and the healthcare sector is no exception. A report found that 40 million patients' medical information has been leaked by data breaches in the first quarter of 2023. Telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, IoMT devices, and portable medical devices increase the attack surface and make the healthcare industry a prime target of attackers.

Most healthcare institutions use traditional perimeter-based security to monitor and secure their IT infrastructure. However, as it provides inadequate user access controls, it makes medical centers vulnerable to attacks. Healthcare organizations must look for robust security measures that give users the least privilege access to systems and strengthen their overall security posture.

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is an alternative to traditional security models. All users inside or outside the network must authenticate, authorize, and validate their identities before they are granted access to confidential data and applications. ZTA restricts access to network resources based on user identity and contextual factors such as location, device health, and data accessed. The selective restrictions reduce the likelihood of data breaches, ensure patient data confidentiality, and make organizations adhere to strict regulatory standards.

As more and more industries shift to ZTNA to reap the benefits of the architecture, it’s clear that healthcare should do the same given the nature of the data handled within.

Here are seven ways ZTNA can transform the healthcare sector to secure PHI even better.

Top ways zero-trust network access plays a pivotal role in healthcare organizations

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In today's digital era, where most PHI is transmitted electronically, ZTNA offers a more dynamic approach to secure healthcare data than traditional approaches. Here's how:

Enhancing Data Security

Data security in healthcare institutions is paramount because they hold susceptible patient information. It includes personally identifiable information (PII), health insurance identification numbers (HINs), social security numbers (SNNs), and financial details like credit card numbers.

This invaluable database attracts threat actors' attention, exploiting IoMT devices to make their prime target. Given the inadequate security posture of these devices, they provide hackers easy access to the organization's network, exposing them to cyber-attacks. The healthcare industry is at the highest risk of ransomware attacks, which increased from 12% to 18% in 2023. Such attacks can have more tragic consequences than one can think. In such a case, Prospect Medical Holdings, Inc. recently experienced a data security incident where an unauthorized party gained access to their IT network between July 31, 2023, and August 3, 2023, compromising patient information such as names, addresses, dates of birth, diagnoses, lab results, medications, and insurance details. Such events have the potential to cause significant financial and reputational loss.

A data breach in healthcare costs more than in other industries, averaging $10.10 million for each incident, according to IBM's Cost of Data Breach Report 2023. The occurrences of such incidents not only compromise the security of patients' data but also erode the trust that forms the foundation of the relationship between patients and healthcare providers. Consequently, it becomes imperative for healthcare providers to prioritize the security of patients' data and proactively seek and implement appropriate measures to safeguard the integrity of the entire network.

The Zero-Trust Network Access (ZTNA) approach strengthens data security through identity-based authentication. It verifies the users' and device posture before granting access to resources and ensures that only authorized people can access, share, and update patients' data. For example, healthcare practitioners must enter passwords and prove their identity with SSO, biometrics, or MFA, which ultimately creates a secure environment and minimizes the risk of data breaches.

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Enforcing Least Privilege Access

Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report finds three primary ways attackers access healthcare organizations:

  • Stolen credentials.
  • Phishing.
  • Exploiting vulnerabilities.

Additionally, 74% of all data breaches include human elements, with individuals involved with privileged misuse. Once hackers enter the network, they compromise sensitive data, leak it on the dark web, or lock it until a ransom is paid. To minimize privileged abuse and the growing risk of data breaches, healthcare groups must adopt the concept of "least privilege access."

Least privilege is a concept that limits user access rights to the minimum required to perform a job. Users are given access to only those systems, apps, and data resources that are necessary to fulfill their jobs and denied access to anything beyond them. For example, a nurse would have the right to access patients' medical history but not their financial data.

In the healthcare environment, adhering to the principles of least privilege enables the security teams to control their systems better, reducing the risk of human error or privilege misuse. This security practice also helps ensure compliance with specific industry regulations like HIPAA, requiring hospitals and medical centers to protect personal data and other sensitive information.

Enforcing least-privilege access is an essential part of healthcare professional jobs, and it can't be done without adopting a zero-trust access model. Least privilege is a core principle of ZTNA based on the idea that users shouldn't have default access to everything. ZTNA enforces the least privileged access by dividing the network into small segments, each operating independently. This limits lateral movement and makes navigating the network challenging for cybercriminals.

Facilitating Remote Healthcare

Due to rapid digitalization, there has been a significant surge in remote healthcare services. For this reason, the remote healthcare market is growing exponentially and is expected to grow by 17.2% and reach $33.5 billion by 2032. Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring (RPM) are core elements of this trend.

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Telemedicine has emerged as a powerful trend in modern healthcare that improves access to healthcare by facilitating virtual consultations. People living in remote areas can now get medical consultations and follow-up care without physical visits. RMP allows workers to receive and analyze continuous health data through wearable devices. This helps in the early detection of diseases and favors patients with chronic diseases. Still, these trends challenge organizations to provide secure remote access and monitor each device to prevent data breaches.

The zero-trust security model profiles and identifies devices and users accessing the network. The profiling considers factors like users' location, device behavior, and security posture, which reduces the attack surface and ensures secure connectivity for remote healthcare workers.

Healthcare groups can also use the SASE framework to address these issues. SASE, which stands for Secure Access Service Edge, is a cloud-native security framework that embraces the ZTNA functionalities. It ensures that network traffic is authenticated and verified before granting access to medical resources from anywhere. Combined, both offer flexibility and scalability and improve security posture for healthcare companies.

Compliance and Regulatory Adherence

Healthcare organizations adhere to industry-specific regulations like HIPAA, HITRUST, and OSHA. Adhering to regulatory requirements, healthcare groups can prove their commitment to patient privacy, industry standards, and data security. Violating these laws results in severe consequences like legal and financial penalties that damage the business's reputation. A relevant example is the Premera Blue Cross Breach, which was asked to pay $6.85 million to settle a HIPAA violation.

Zero trust architecture emerges as a viable solution to address healthcare compliance issues. This security approach helps organizations meet compliance requirements by offering detailed audit logs, granular access control, and security analytics. As HIPAA regulation warns businesses to ensure that unauthorized individuals don't gain access to patients' information, ZTNA's robust access control policies limit application access to authorized personnel.

Device Trust and Security

Healthcare companies are increasingly relying on IoMT devices connected to the internet. Some of these devices partner with other businesses to care for patients and provide them with the best facilities. However, each new vendor may have their own software vulnerabilities that add more risks to the healthcare systems.

What's more alarming is that the paramedical staff have no clue whether the devices or software they're using have vulnerabilities and can likely result in a data breach. This happened with Novant Health, whose 1.3 million patients' personal and financial data was exposed because hackers exploited a zero-day vulnerability in the software.

Fortified Health Security analysis revealed that third-party vendors are responsible for 16% of data breaches in the first half of 2022, raising the importance of maintaining device security of medical staff. Performing device posture checks is among the best ways to ensure device security as it verifies that devices accessing systems and applications are not corrupted and have the latest software version installed with anti-virus and malware protection.

Enforcing device posture checks is much easier with the ZTNAsolutions. By implementing stringent device authentication policies, ZTNA allows healthcare companies to prevent unauthorized access attempts and ensure that trusted and properly configured devices can get patients' data. Doing so maintains the confidentiality of patients' data and minimizes the potential of unauthorized access leading to data leaks.

Real-Time Threat Detection

According to an IBM report, on average, companies take 217 days to detect a cyber intrusion and 75 days to contain it. Cyber attackers can remain in the network for almost a year, escalate privileges, and exfiltrate sensitive data before security teams discover them.

As a result, the healthcare industry is becoming a significant target for cyber threats like phishing, malware, and ransomware attacks. Among the most prolific and dangerous are ransomware attacks, which account for 30% of all incidents. This alarming situation highlights the need to adopt proactive cybersecurity measures like ZTNA for healthcare centers.

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Within the ZTNA approach, organizations can gain better visibility into user behavior and control over their network traffic, which helps detect potential threats and anomalies as it continuously monitors the network traffic to identify unusual activities. It also utilizes behavioral analytics to establish a baseline for device behavior and the device user. Any deviation from this baseline can alert the security teams about any suspicious activity so they can take immediate action. This way, ZTNA reduces the time to detect and remediate threats and minimizes the damage.

Scalability for Healthcare Organizations

In the healthcare sector, scalability allows professionals to meet the needs of the diverse population of patients while maximizing performance and limiting cost. Healthcare businesses can achieve scalability through advanced technologies like telemedicine and electronic health records (EHR). But, as both technological trends come with security challenges, healthcare centers must look for an approach that helps them achieve scalability without compromising security.

ZTNA solutions are flexible and customized to meet healthcare center requirements. Whether you own a small medical clinic, a medium-sized regional hospital, or a large healthcare system, ZTNA can be implemented according to its scale, which can be expanded as the business grows. Its principles ensure maximum security and protection of patients' data and devices used. With careful planning and management, ZTNA solutions can easily be integrated into their existing infrastructure.

Challenges while adopting ZTNA

The zero-trust model offers significant advantages to the healthcare sector, but it also comes with its own set of obstacles:

Difficulties with adoption:

Once implemented, users need to verify their identity whenever they need access to sensitive data to perform their jobs or communicate and collaborate. Strict access control can leave employees locked out of important files and applications, causing them to become frustrated and less productive.

Costly Deployment:

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) implementation can incur significant costs, primarily due to deploying new technologies and security solutions. For instance, adopting multi-factor authentication (MFA) is essential for enhancing security but can contribute to increased expenses, particularly for smaller organizations. These costs may encompass the acquisition of hardware and software, training for staff, and ongoing maintenance, potentially posing financial challenges for organizations with limited resources.

Compatibility constraints with existing systems

Legacy security systems and devices also hinder the ZTNA implementation process as they often lack compatibility and features to meet ZTNA requirements, making them the weakest link within the network. This can cause IT and security teams to resist transitioning to ZTNA because they're familiar with traditional security models that don't see the value of changing the network architecture.

Organizations can use a few tips to overcome these obstacles. This includes:

  • Run zero-trust trials, allowing employees to provide feedback on future implementation.
  • Subject the most critical data to access control policies, leaving the remaining data to traditional security control. This way, it won't affect productivity and will ensure a seamless user experience.
  • Train IT and security teams on the value behind deploying a ZTNA framework to ease adoption.

Final Words

Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is a crucial security approach for healthcare organizations, deterring threat actors attracted by the wealth of sensitive information. By enforcing least-privilege access and device authentication policies, ZTNA prevents unauthorized access, reducing the risk of data breaches. It also facilitates secure remote access for healthcare professionals, ensuring compliance with regulations like HIPAA. Explore PureDome's cybersecurity solution for remote healthcare workers to enhance productivity while maintaining HIPAA compliance. Contact us now and learn more about how PureDome can help you.