Four easy steps for organizations to hand over data control

To stay connected with patients, healthcare providers are turning to telehealth services. In fact, 34.5 million telehealth services were delivered from March through June, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The shift to remote healthcare has also impacted the roll out of new regulations that would give patients secure and free access to their health data.

hand over data control

The shift to online services shines a light on a major cybersecurity issue within all industries (but especially healthcare where people have zero control over their data): consent.

Hand over data control

Data transparency allows people to know what personal data has been collected, what data an organization wants to collect and how it will be used. Data control provides the end-user with choice and authority over what is collected and even where it is shared. Together the two lead to a competitive edge, as 85% of consumers say they will take their business elsewhere if they do not trust how a company is handling their data.

Regulations such as the GDPR and the CCPA have been enacted to hold companies accountable unlike ever before – providing greater protection, transparency and control to consumers over their personal data.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) regulation, which is set to go into effect in early 2021, would provide interoperability, allowing patients to access, share and manage their healthcare data as they do their financial data. Healthcare organizations must provide people with control over their data and where it goes, which in turn strengthens trust.

How to earn patients’ trust

Organizations must improve their ability to earn patients’ confidence and trust by putting comprehensive identity and access management (IAM) systems in place. Such systems need to offer the ability to manage privacy settings, account for data download and deletion, and enable data sharing with not just third-party apps but also other people, such as additional care providers and family members.

The right digital identity solution should empower the orchestration of user identity journeys, such as registration and authentication, in a convenient way that unifies configuring security and user experience choices.

It should also enable the healthcare organization to protect patients’ personal data while offering their end-users a unified means of control of their data consents and permissions. Below are the four key steps companies should take to earn trust when users hand over data control:

  • Identify where digital transformation opportunities and user trust risks intersect. Since users are becoming more skeptical, organizations must analyze “trust gaps” while they are discovering clever new ways to leverage personal data.
  • Consider personal data as a joint asset. It’s easy for a company to say consumers own their own personal data, but business leaders have incentives to leverage that data for the value it brings to their business. This changes the equation. All the stakeholders within an organization need to come together and view data as a joint asset in which all parties, including end-users, have a stake.
  • Lean into consent. Given the realities of regulations, a business often has a choice to offer consent to end-users rather than just collecting and using data. Seek to offer the option – it provides benefits when building trust with skeptical consumers, as well as when proving your right to use that data.
  • Take advantage of consumer identity and access management (CIAM) for building trust. Identity management platforms automate and provide visibility into the entire customer journey across many different applications and channels. They also allow end-users to retain the controls to manage their own profiles, passwords, privacy settings and personal data.

Providing data transparency and data control to the end-user enhances the relationship between business and consumer. Organizations can achieve this trust with consumers in a comprehensive fashion by applying consumer identity and access management that scales across all of their applications. To see these benefits before regulations like the HHS regulations go into effect, organizations need to act now.

Working together to secure our expanding connected health future

Securing medical devices is not a new challenge. Former Vice President Cheney, for example, had the wireless capabilities of a defibrillator disabled when implanted near his heart in 2007, and hospital IT departments and health providers have for years secured medical devices to protect patient data and meet HIPAA requirements.

connected health

With the expansion of security perimeters, the surge in telehealth usage (particularly during COVID-19), and proliferation in the number and types of connected technologies, healthcare cybersecurity has evolved into a more complex and urgent effort.

Today, larger hospital systems have approximately 350,000+ medical devices running simultaneously. On top of this, millions of additional connected devices are maintained by the patients themselves. Over the next 10 years, it’s estimated the number of connected medical devices could increase to roughly 50 billion, driven by innovations such as 5G, edge computing, and more. This rise in connectivity has increased the threat of cyberattacks not just to patient data, but also patient safety. Vulnerabilities in healthcare technology (e.g., an MRI machine or pacemaker) can lead to patient harm if diagnoses are delayed or the right treatments don’t get to the right people.

What can the healthcare industry do to strengthen their defenses today? How can they lay the groundwork for more secure devices and networks tomorrow?

The challenges are interconnected. The solutions cannot be siloed, and collaboration between manufacturers, doctors, healthcare delivery organizations and regulators is more critical now than ever before.

Device manufacturers: Integrating security into product design

Many organizations view medical device cybersecurity as protecting technology while it is deployed as part of a local network. Yet medical devices also need to be designed and developed with mobile and cloud security in mind, with thoughtful consideration about the patient experience. It is especially important we take this step as medical technology moves beyond the four walls of the hospital and into the homes of patients. The connected device itself needs to be secure, as opposed to the network surrounding the device.

We also need greater visibility and transparency across the medical device supply chain—a “software bill of materials.” The multicomponent nature of many medical products, such as insulin pumps or pacemakers, make the final product feel like a black box: hospitals and users know what it’s intended to do, but they don’t have much understanding about the individual components that make everything work. That makes it difficult to solve cybersecurity problems as they arise.

According to the 2019 HIMSS Cybersecurity Survey, just over 15% of significant security issues were initially started through either medical device problems in hospitals or vendor medical devices. As a result, some of these issues led to ransomware attacks exposing vulnerabilities, as healthcare providers and device makers scrambled to figure out just which of the products were at risk, while their systems were under threat. A software bill of materials would have helped them respond quickly to security, license, and operational risks.

Healthcare delivery organizations: Prioritizing preparedness and patient education

Healthcare providers, for their part, need to strengthen their threat awareness and preparedness, thinking about security from device procurement all the way to the sunsetting of legacy devices, which can extend over years and decades.

It’s currently not uncommon for healthcare facilities to use legacy technology that is 15 to 20 years old. Many of these devices are no longer supported and their security doesn’t meet the baseline of today’s evolving threats. However, as there is no replacement technology that serves the same functions, we need to provide heightened monitoring of these devices.

Threat modeling can help hospitals and providers understand their risks and increase resilience. Training and preparedness exercises are imperative in another critical area of cybersecurity: the humans operating the devices. Such exercises can put doctors, for instance, in an emergency treatment scenario with a malfunctioning device, and the discussions that follow provide valuable opportunities to educate, build awareness of, and proactively prepare for cyber threats.

Providers might consider “cybersecurity informed consent” to educate patients. When a patient signs a form before a procedure that acknowledges potential risks like infection or side effects, cyber-informed consent could include risks related to data breaches, denial of service attacks, ransomware, and more. It’s an opportunity to both manage risk and engage patients in conversations about cybersecurity, increasing trust in the technology that is essential for their health.

Regulators: Connecting a complex marketplace

The healthcare industry in the US is tremendously complex, comprised of hundreds of large healthcare systems, thousands of groups of physician practices, public and private payers, medical device manufacturers, software companies, and so on.

This expanding healthcare ecosystem can make it difficult to coordinate. Groups like the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Healthcare Sector Coordinating Council have been rising to the challenge.

They’ve assembled subgroups and task forces in areas like device development and the treatment of legacy technologies. They’ve been reaching out to hospitals, patients, medical device manufacturers, and others to strengthen information-sharing and preparedness, to move toward a more open, collaborative cybersecurity environment.

Last year, the FDA issued a safety communication to alert health care providers and patients about cybersecurity vulnerabilities identified in a wireless telemetry technology used for communication that impacted more than 20 types of implantable cardiac devices, programmers, and home monitors. Later in 2019, the same device maker recalled thousands of insulin pumps due to unpatchable cyber vulnerabilities.

These are but two examples of many that demonstrate not only the impact of cybersecurity to patient health but to device makers and the healthcare system at large. Connected health should give patients access to approved technologies that can save lives without introducing risks to patient safety.

As the world continues to realize the promise of connected technologies, we must monitor threats, manage risks, and increase our network resilience. Working together to incorporate cybersecurity into device design, industry regulations, provider resilience, and patient education are where we should start.

Contributing author: Shannon Lantzy, Chief Scientist, Booz Allen Hamilton.

70% of consumers would cut ties with doctors over unprotected health data

There are growing privacy concerns among Americans due to COVID-19 with nearly 70 percent citing they would likely sever healthcare provider ties if they found that their personal health data was unprotected, a CynergisTek survey reveals.

unprotected health data

Privacy concerns

And as many employers seek to welcome staff back into physical workplaces, nearly half (45 percent) of Americans expressed concerns about keeping personal health information private from their employer.

“With the enactment of key regulations including CCPA and GDPR, we are seeing the convergence of security and privacy come to the forefront at national, state and corporate levels.

“As healthcare systems and corporations continue to grapple with data challenges associated with COVID-19 – whether that’s more sophisticated, targeted cyber-attacks or the new requirements around interoperability and data sharing, concerns around personal data and consumer awareness of privacy rights will only continue to grow,” said Caleb Barlow, president and CEO of CynergisTek.

Patients contemplate cutting ties over unprotected health data

While many still assume personal data is under lock and key, 18 percent of Americans are beginning to question whether personal health data is being adequately protected by healthcare providers. In fact, 47.5 percent stated they were unlikely to use telehealth services again should a breach occur, sounding the alarm for a burgeoning telehealth industry predicted to be worth over $260B by 2026.

While 3 out of 4 Americans still largely trust their data is properly protected by their healthcare provider, tolerance is beginning to wane with 67 percent stating they would change providers if it was found that their data was not properly protected. When drilling deeper into certain age groups and health conditions, the survey also found that:

  • Gen X (73 percent) and Millennials (70 percent) proved even less tolerant compared to other demographics when parting ways with their providers due to unprotected health data.
  • 66 percent of Americans living with chronic health conditions stated they would be willing to change up care providers should their data be compromised.

Data shows that health systems who have not invested the time, money and resources to keep pace with the ever-changing threat landscape are falling behind. Of the nearly 300 healthcare facilities assessed, less than one half met NIST Cybersecurity Framework guidelines.

Concern about sharing COVID-19 health data upon returning to work

As pressures mount for returning employees to disclose COVID-19 health status and personal interactions, an increasing conflict between ensuring public health safety and upholding employee privacy is emerging.

This is increasingly evident with 45 percent stating a preference to keep personal health information private from their employer, shining a light on increased scrutiny among employees with over 1 in 3 expressing concerns about sharing COVID-19 specific health data, e.g. temperature checks. This highlights that office openings may prove more complicated than anticipated.

“The challenges faced by both healthcare providers and employers during this pandemic have seemed insurmountable at times, but the battle surrounding personal health data and privacy is a challenge we must rise to,” said Russell P. Branzell, president and CEO of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives.

“With safety and security top of mind for all, it is imperative that these organizations continue to take the necessary steps to fully protect this sensitive data from end to end, mitigating any looming cyberthreats while creating peace of mind for the individual.”

Beyond unwanted employer access to personal data, the survey found that nearly 60 percent of respondents expressed anxieties around their employer sharing personal health data externally to third parties such as insurance companies and employee benefit providers without consent.

A stark contrast to Accenture’s recent survey which found 62 percent of C-suite executives confirmed they were exploring new tools to collect employee data. A reminder to employers to tread lightly when mandating employee health protocols and questionnaires.

“COVID-19 has thrown many curveballs at both healthcare providers and employers, and the privacy and protection of critical patient and employee data must not be ignored,” said David Finn, executive VP of strategic innovation of CynergisTek.

“By getting ahead of the curve and implementing system-wide risk posture assessments and ensuring employee opt-in/opt-out functions when it comes to sharing personal data, these organizations can help limit these privacy and security risks.”

Telehealth is healthcare industry’s biggest cybersecurity risk

While COVID-19 has proven the healthcare industry’s overall resilience, it has also increased its cybersecurity risk with new and emerging threats.

telehealth cybersecurity risk

The rapid adoption and onboarding of telehealth vendors led to a significantly increased digital footprint, attack surface, and cybersecurity risk for both provider and patient data, a new report released by SecurityScorecard and DarkOwl has shown.

Telehealth use is booming, and so is the associated cybersecurity risk

According to a brief from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at the height of the pandemic, the number of telehealth primary care visits increased 350-fold from pre-pandemic levels.

Researchers focused the 2020 healthcare report on reviewing the 148 most-used telehealth vendors according to Becker’s Hospital Review. The report indicates that telehealth providers have experienced a nearly exponential increase in targeted attacks as popularity skyrocketed, including a 30% increase of cybersecurity findings per domain, notably:

  • 117% increase in IP reputation security alerts
    • Malware infections — as part of successful phishing attempts and other attack vectors — ultimately cause IP reputation finding issues
  • 65% increase in patching cadence findings
    • Patching cadence is the regularity of installing security patches and is often one of the primary security policies that protect data
  • 56% increase in endpoint security findings
    • Exploited vulnerabilities in endpoint security enable data theft
  • 16% increase in application security findings
    • Patients connect with telehealth providers using web-based applications including structured and unstructured data
  • 42% increase in FTP issues
    • FTP is an insecure network protocol that enables information to travel between a client and a server on a network
  • 27% increase in RDP issues
    • RDP is a protocol that allows for remote connections, which has seen increased usage since the widespread adoption of remote work

Evidence on the dark web

Additionally, DarkOwl’s research showed a noticeable increase in mentions of major healthcare and telehealth companies across the dark web since February 2020. There was evidence of prolific and emerging threat actors selling electronic patient healthcare data, malware toolkits that specifically target telehealth technologies, and strains of ransomware that are uniquely configured to take down healthcare IT infrastructure.

Over the past four years, SecurityScorecard has reported on the cybersecurity struggles the healthcare industry faces. In this year’s report, SecurityScorecard and DarkOwl looked at over one million organizations – over 30,000 in healthcare alone – from September 2019 to April 2020 and analyzed terabytes of information to assess risk across 10 factors.

The healthcare industry, despite new risks from telehealth vendors, slightly improved its security posture compared to 2019. The industry moved to 9th place out of 18 reviewed industries (up from 10th in 2019.) This is heartening, especially as the industry has been overwhelmed by an influx of patients, limited resources, rationing, and other challenges due to COVID-19.

“While telehealth is an integral part of maintaining social distancing and providing patient care, it has also increased healthcare providers’ digital footprint and attack surface, which we see with the increase of findings per telehealth domain, and in factors like endpoint security,” said Sam Kassoumeh, COO and co-founder of SecurityScorecard. “It’s an indicator that healthcare organizations should continue to keep a focus on cyber resilience.”

Mark Turnage, CEO of DarkOwl adds, “Since the onset of the pandemic, cybercriminals are entering the healthcare data selling space which ultimately leads to new risks facing healthcare organizations and their IT supply stream. Threat protection teams must remain one step ahead of potential attackers, especially during this critical time.”