What healthcare CISOs should know

“Are we more secure today than yesterday?” is the question every healthcare organization needs to asks itself every day. in order to develop a more effective security posture, says Rami Essaid, CEO of Distil Networks.

advice healthcare CISO

A sad situation

It used to be that retail and financial services were the most popular targets for breaches and malicious attacks, but the healthcare industry is now right up there with them.

The reason for that change is simple: protected health information (PHI) is more lucrative on the dark web than other forms of personally identifiable information. Also, healthcare organizations keep other useful data: access credentials, personally identifiable information, and financial records.

“The value of a single medical record on the web’s black market can be as high as $500,” Essaid points out.

Yet, most people are unaware of the fact that medical data theft can be far more damaging than credit card or social security number compromise.

For one thing, the stolen medical records can be used for a variety of criminal activities: more personal data theft, payment card fraud, healthcare insurance fraud, acquisition of controlled and prescription substances, and so on. Secondly, the victims will likely have problems because of it for the rest of their lives.

Still, we’re all forced to trust healthcare organizations to keep out medical data secure. Unfortunately, many of them are struggling to sufficiently secure their systems due to limited resources, budget and timelines.

Advice healthcare CISOs should heed

“The healthcare sector is under pressure to
 comply with a range of regulations such as US healthcare-specific HIPAA, more general data protection rules such as the looming GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe and, for those that take online payments, the PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard),” says Essaid.

A CISO moving from another industry needs to understand this landscape. Also, he or she must recognize that integrating security into a healthcare organization’s Software Development Life Cycle is a difficult thing to do well.

“The CISO should first review the HITRUST CSF (Common Security Framework),” he advises to healthcare CISOs.

“Secondly, many healthcare organizations, especially ones that deal with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), are familiar with the NIST 800-53R4 framework. The US Government uses this as the core of its security programs. CMS also pushes that requirement down to partners. Ideally look at negotiating the more open 800-53 over the closed HITRUST CSF with your stakeholders and you will benefit in the long run.”

Start with the basics, and don’t forget the APIs

In general, though, healthcare institutions need to start with the basics:

  • Training, education and awareness for employees around social engineering and insider threats
  • Developing a better understanding of the motivations of cyber criminals and what key assets they are looking for, and then implementing protection controls accordingly.

Then comes the establishing of the necessary security audits, processes, procedures and compliance.

Essaid believes that adopting the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) secure development guidelines is a good idea, more so because seven of the twenty OWASP Automated Threats (OATs) are cited as primary threats to the healthcare industry.

Another important thing is not to overlook access control to website content and APIs, as many security practices that historically have been delivered in the user interface are now moving to API backends.

“In addition to the business benefits of faster delivery and ease of integrations aside, there are some security benefits of using APIs, too. Condensing the logic into the API helps address common UI related security issues,” he explains.

But cybercriminals use bad bots (what OWASP calls Automated Threats) to attack login screens, steal patient records and perform account fraud. And aggregators and upstarts use web scraping bots to steal unique content or provide insurance policy quotes.

“Inaccurate pricing leads to customer frustration, and aggressive scraping can even cause slowdowns and downtime,” he points out. “But while APIs widen an organization’s attack surface, but many of the same secure development best practices can also be implemented to protect them.”