Why data travel is healthcare’s next big cybersecurity challenge

Do you know where your patients’ data lives once it’s in the cloud? Unfortunately, for many healthcare organizations, the answer is no – or, at least, it’s not a definitive yes.

healthcare data travel

Knowing how (or where) data is used, shared or stored is essential to ensuring organizational security and patient privacy. Yet, as digital transformation makes data more “liquid”, it’s becoming a larger challenge.

Here’s why data travel is the next big cybersecurity challenge — and what healthcare organizations can do to keep their data safe.

Understanding data travel

Data travel is the journey your data takes once it leaves the direct control of your organization. With the rise of cloud services, data has become increasingly mobile and interconnected, often passing through various servers, data centers and potentially third-party entities before reaching its intended destination.

Each point in this journey represents a possible opportunity for data exposure or mishandling, which makes data travel a serious cybersecurity concern — particularly when it comes to protected health information (PHI). Data could be intercepted during transmission, improperly accessed at rest, or incorrectly disposed of at the end of its lifecycle. Each server or network it travels through, each device it’s accessed from, and every person who accesses it represent potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited by bad actors.

Understanding data travel is a crucial first step in ensuring that sensitive health information remains protected throughout its entire lifecycle, from creation to deletion.

The reality of data in the cloud

Healthcare’s migration to the cloud has revolutionized how the industry approaches data storage, offering scalability, accessibility, and cost savings. However, misconceptions about the cloud remain. For example, one common myth is that data stored in the cloud stays in a fixed location.

In reality, data in the cloud is far from stationary. Cloud storage often means distributing data across multiple servers and data centers, often in different locations, to ensure reliability and quick access. Of course, cloud providers utilize strict security measures to protect this data, but the fact that this data is scattered and constantly moving makes it that much harder to monitor and secure.

Each jump your data takes between servers could potentially expose it to additional vulnerabilities. What’s more, as data passes over geographic boundaries, it can fall under the jurisdiction of various regulations. Data stored in the European Union, for example, is subject to GDPR, while the same data stored in the U.S. falls under different laws. To navigate these complexities of data travel, it’s essential for healthcare organizations to first understand the true nature of data movement in the cloud. Once the foundation of that understanding has been established, organizations can then work to implement comprehensive security measures to keep patient data secure across the dynamic cloud landscape.

Strategies for managing data travel

Here are a few of the most important strategies organizations can utilize to effectively manage and monitor data travel:

  • Data mapping: To gain a comprehensive view of how data moves within and outside your organization, data mapping is key. It not only enables you to map data flow, but identify every point your data touches, from devices and networks to third-party vendors.
  • Encryption: Encrypting your data, whether it’s in transit or at rest, provides an additional layer of security, ensuring that even if data falls into the wrong hands, it remains unreadable without the correct decryption key.
  • Access controls and monitoring: Establish rigorous access controls to ensure only authorized users can access sensitive health data. Continuously monitor data access and usage so you can detect any suspicious activity — and rapidly mitigate it.
  • Choosing secure cloud providers: Partner with cloud providers that prioritize security and offer transparency into their data handling practices. If data travel across multiple geographic locations is a concern, look for providers that offer data residency guarantees to ensure regulatory compliance.
  • Frequent and consistent security training: Regularly hold trainings for your entire staff to learn the latest data management best practices. Unfortunately, human error is often the cause of data breaches.

As healthcare continues to embrace cloud services, the challenge of managing and securing data travel becomes greater — and increasingly critical.

From data mapping and encryption to strict access controls and regular staff training, there are multiple layers to an effective data security strategy. Disregarding any of these elements can have serious consequences for healthcare organizations, including costly data breaches, damaged reputations and, most importantly, negative impacts on real human lives.

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