The advent of healthcare IoT has brought forth many of the previously irrelevant security concerns. Globally, the large-scale IoT adoption resulted in a surge in IoT malware attacks by 215.7% during 2018, and a 5% increase in the number of attacks in 2019. This means over 32 million attacks per year: a disturbing figure, that healthcare device vendors should not overlook.
Connected to the Internet, each IoT device is a potential security loophole. Their exposure to hacker attacks can lead to the disclosure of patients’ personal information, disrupting the works of other systems, and, most importantly, undermining patients’ personal safety. In this blog, we will talk about the best practices for ensuring IoT security in healthcare and share our experience on how to protect your IT system and patients’ data from perpetrators.
The Importance of Healthcare IoT Security
In recent years, surveys have confirmed the security vulnerabilities of medical devices connected to the Internet and attracted the public’s attention to IoT security in healthcare. Since 2016 and 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires medical device manufacturers to build security into their systems.
Still, the attacks on medical devices are getting more sophisticated: in 2017, WannaCry ransomware stalled operations in many hospitals and clinics by preventing medical personnel from accessing the infected devices. In 2020, during the COVID-19 outbreak, the overall number of attacks on IoT devices increased, with medical equipment becoming the most frequent target for intrusions.
So why is healthcare IoT security a matter of vital importance? Apart from the privacy threats, concerns about the integrity of patients’ healthcare data and negative financial and reputational implications, patients’ safety is, inarguably, the most serious hazard. Although none of the cases, when patient’s safety was affected as a direct result of hacker attack has been reported yet, such possibility exists.
For example, a simple change in the value of vital metrics collected by medical devices like pulse oxymeters or glucose meters may affect the ways in which patient care is delivered and medication dosages, and lead to fatal consequences. Furthermore, hackers taking control of medical devices may alter their operation modes and turn them into deadly weapons. Penetrating into a hospital network and accessing other medical equipment through a single device is a negative, yet realistic scenario.
As such, a threat may come through a device brought by patients and visitors and operating through a guest network – something the organization’s IT staff may not even be aware of. Clearly, traditional firewalls and antivirus software are no longer enough to ensure adequate protection – healthcare firms need to work out other means of detecting both known and unknown threats.
On top of that, legacy equipment and convergence issues pose additional challenges to healthcare IoT security. For a healthcare company, replacing a piece of medical equipment may involve hefty investments. Used for decades, such equipment may not comply with modern security rules and standards and is an easy target for an attack.
Security and Privacy Issues with IoT in Healthcare
With IoT devices becoming omnipresent, security matters deserve a closer look. In a nutshell, the risks of IoT security in healthcare fall into three main categories: IT risks, risks to patients’ safety, and data security risks. Let’s now explore them in more detail.
1. Disclosure of PHI
Personal Health Information (PHI) contained in medical electronic medical records should only be revealed to primary caregivers. In reality, though, it can often be viewed, copied, or modified without patients’ consent. The IoT glucose monitor data, for example, can be easily exposed to third parties and requires additional protection.
2. Privacy violations
Highly sensitive data such as demographics, social security numbers, and credit card details are valued by cybercriminals. Security vulnerabilities enable them to get control of patients’ personal data, modify and misuse it.
3. Data ownership issues
Likewise, the data from consumer healthcare wearables, that users assume is private, is not necessarily so. Depending on the legislation of a country or state, this data may or may not belong to the device users.
4. Location data
When it comes to data security, IoT healthcare has a lot of issues to resolve. Users’ location data, for example, is also considered personal information, while its privacy may also be easily compromised and revealed to third parties.
5. DDoS attack
A malicious attack resulting in a distributed denial of services (DDoS attack), is executed by overwhelming a target by the flow of Internet traffic. DDoS attacks render services inaccessible and have highly disruptive effects on healthcare operations.
This recently coined term stands for the hijacking of a medical device, which is one of the frequent security issues in IoT healthcare. Through taking control over connected equipment, perpetrators may gain access to sensitive data, take control over other devices on the network, infect them with malware and, potentially, use them to harm patients.
7. Unauthorized access
IoT devices use a multi-tenant cloud environment for data storage, which means it may be vulnerable to unauthorized access. Device vendors have to leverage advanced identification and authentication techniques to prevent users from accessing other users’ data – intentionally, or by accident.
At Empeek we do all it takes to meet the challenges to IoT in healthcare and to eliminate the threats to patient safety, data integrity, and organizations’ IT systems. If you’re looking for a company with proven expertise in ensuring the security and compliance of IoT solutions, contact us now for a free chat with our experts.
Healthcare IoT Security Best Practices
Security breaches could happen through ignorance, negligence, or ill intent. In case your organization falls victim to a hacker attack through a vulnerability in a connected device, several parties could be held accountable: your staff, cloud service providers, patients, or regulatory bodies failing to pay closer attention to a potential problem. A preventive approach, however, works best on an organizational level.
Below is an outline of the best practices aimed at eliminating the cybersecurity challenges in using IoT in healthcare.
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Ensuring network security
Healthcare companies avoid potential breaches in network security by providing network segmentation and protecting each of the subnets at its own level. Network administrators can execute control over the flow of traffic between each network segment, and use encryption techniques to protect data from being decoded, even if it gets intercepted by hackers.
Applying context-aware security approach
Context-aware security systems are, in essence, more advanced than traditional cybersecurity tools detecting and preventing the already-known threats. Contextual-aware security takes into account the broader picture – who is attempting access, from where, when, and in what manner. By detecting non-typical activity and unfamiliar patterns, such an approach helps detect threats in real-time and prevent security violations and network breaches.
Device centralization and segmentation
Healthcare IoT security best practices include aggregating them into a separate network, to facilitate their monitoring and control. IoT aggregation hubs will help you manage your devices, control which network elements and resources that they have access too and modify their security settings.
Protection on a hardware level
A hardware breach implies a malicious chip is infecting your network. The effects of hardware breaches can be fatal, so organizations take measures to protect their devices on a hardware level, making the devices’ debug port difficult to access and protecting it by an electronic digital signature. Real-time monitoring detecting any suspicious hardware behavior is also an effective means of detecting hardware breaches.
As mentioned above, applying data encryption is also part of the healthcare IoT security best practices. As a rule, connected devices use both symmetric and asymmetric lightweight cryptography (LWCRYPT) techniques, whereas parties exchange encryption keys before conducting data transfer. Today, IoT sensors normally contain encryption keys aimed at establishing a protected HTTP channel between devices and consumers.
EMI stands for ‘electromagnetic interference issue’, which is becoming a part of our lives with an increasing amount of electronic devices. Shielding involves building a metal frame surrounding a device and blocking electromagnetic waves to protect it from unwanted interference.
These best practices help organizations overcome the security and privacy issues with IoT in healthcare, and fully benefit from the advantages of healthcare IoT.
Empeek Advice and Expertise
Over the years, here at Empeek, we have developed expertise in healthcare IoT security. Below are some of the actionable tips that healthcare companies may use to ensure patient’s safety, safeguard sensitive data and protect their IT networks.
Apply IoT security best practices
Network segmentation, data encryption, hardware protection, and EMI shielding are practical means of ensuring the cybersecurity of your IoT-driven medical practice. Using advanced protection methods like context-aware protection will help you prevent attacks in a timely manner.
Keep track of your devices and assets
Carefully mapping out all the devices belonging to your organization will help you in timely detection of the potential threats. Some of the devices connecting to your network, though, may belong to visitors and patients and it may be difficult to keep track of all of them. Invest in inventory devices that help detect the existing network connections as well as some of their parameters, such as, for example, the type of operating system they use.
Introduce effective authentication
Setting up effective authentication policies will ensure no data gets copied or modified by perpetrators. Adopt a zero-trust approach – make sure all connections get authenticated even if they come from inside of your organization.
Segregate traffic and restrict access
We have already stressed the importance of network segmentation in ensuring IoT security in healthcare. The goal is to control the flow of traffic between each network segment. The same principles apply to devices: network admins should restrict their access to the Internet. If Internet access is necessary, the administrators should limit the number of connections to eliminate the potentially harmful ones. Organizations should also impose data access policies restricting personnel access to patients’ sensitive data.
Use IoT security solutions
Today, many vendors offer tools for IoT security, such as inventory tracking, traffic management and network visibility solutions. Some of these tools control authentications and data streams. These solutions can help network administrators in timely detection of threats.
Despite the risks of IoT security in healthcare, connected devices are capable of taking the delivery of medical services to an entirely new level. Admittedly, though, overcoming cybersecurity challenges takes time and effort. With this regard, forging a partnership with an external company proficient in building and deploying healthcare IoT solutions, could help you safeguard patients’ data and protect organizations’ network from malware and intrusions.
Looking for a reliable IT partner to help you adopt IoT security best practices? Connect with Empeek experts now to schedule a free consultation!