Healthcare organizations know all too well that the COVID-19 fight isn’t over — not in the clinic, nor in the IT security department.

Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that in 2021, the healthcare industry will suffer two to three times more cyberattacks than the average for other industries. On top of the expanding security threat, multiple sources point to the immense cost of healthcare data breaches. IBM’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report found that healthcare companies are incurring the highest average breach cost of any industry: $7.13 million per incidence, a 10% increase over the 2019 study. 

With the healthcare industry expected to spend $125 billion on cybersecurity from 2020 to 2025, dollars must be spent for maximum efficiency. The question is, how to allocate those funds most effectively at a time when cybercriminals have placed a huge target on hospitals, research labs, pharmaceuticals and insurance carriers.

Organizations need to take a layered approach to security to protect their organizations and sensitive patient data. The smartest approach is to start at the perimeter and work back toward existing enterprise protections – here’s how to do that.


Think of endpoints as “start points”

The single most critical issue for security professionals, at a time when work from home is the norm, is endpoint protection and response. Laptops, mobile devices and residential workstations may be commonly referred to as “endpoints”— but in terms of security risk, they are “start points” where threat actors will invariably strike first.

Security professionals must carefully consider the “pandemic effect” on IT practices. Physicians, therapists, nurse practitioners and others are accessing telemedicine from home. Organizations rely on these extended endpoints outside the enterprise firewall, most of which are supported by cloud-based applications and data warehouses.

Phishing scams are a favorite means of gaining access to these endpoints — but the attacks don’t stop there. Internet connections are another point of vulnerability for healthcare organizations. A staffer’s home may seem secure enough, but in security terms it can be an environment that is ripe for threat actors to infiltrate. Criminals have ways to access a huge range of residential IoT devices. Voice assistants, connected home devices, even refrigerators have internet connections these days, making them easy points of entry to penetrate private networks and reach endpoints.


Focus on training the remote worker

The ultimate perimeter point is the employee.

Workforce training is vital to IT security, as IBM found that 95% of breaches are caused by human error. A majority of breaches come from an end user clicking on something they shouldn’t — usually a phishing scam which, according to the same IBM report, accounts for 90% of security breaches. This is a primary threat conduit for accessing sensitive information like insurance IDs, social security numbers and passwords.

During a pandemic it’s impossible to get large organizations into a training room — which means organizations need alternatives. One excellent solution is to create and distribute mockups of phishing campaigns. The idea is that if an employee interacts with the phishing mockup, they are redirected to a reinforcement tool, e.g., a short training video.

Anti-phishing campaigns should be run several times throughout the year to keep scams top-of-mind. To the workforce it may sound like a menial priority, but it’s so easy for people to “fast click” on scams. They need to learn to hover their mouse over every link before clicking and evaluate extended URLs for integrity. At the end of the day, organization must change worker behaviors by reinforcing good behaviors and training out bad ones.


Increase your value on EDR and MDM

Behavior modification is important, but so is infrastructure. Organizations should invest in a strong endpoint detection and response (EDR) platform to secure their end devices. Free EDR services may be an attractive alternative, but they are often reverse engineered by criminals and can be problematic. A purchased solution can provide stronger protection.

Monitoring and management are other critical elements of protection. Rich EDR data should be fed into a Security Information and Event (SIEM) platform where it can be constantly monitored for possible endpoint intrusion. A tool like SIEM allows data from disparate security solutions to be unified into a single interface to prioritize and triage identified threats, allowing IT staff or managed providers to quickly address and prevent lasting damage.

Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms have built in security functionality that overlaps and enhances endpoint protection platforms. MDM solutions allow security teams to lock down USB ports on remote laptops, so data can’t be moved to an external drive and beyond the security bubble. They also support geofencing; if a laptop or other mobile device is taken outside a pre-defined geographic area, the organization is alerted and the data on that device can be wiped remotely.


Education is the key

2021 is shaping up to be a deeply consequential year for healthcare cybersecurity. If you have the time and resources, a security assessment can be helpful to uncover coverage gaps — but given the current threat environment, assessments shouldn’t be your starting point.

Vulnerability scans can be used to detect and classify system weaknesses in computers, networks and communications equipment and provide ways to remedy the issues. This gives a proactive approach to close any gaps and maintain strong security for systems, data, employees, and customers. A penetration test — known as a pen test or "ethical hacking"— safely identifies and exploits vulnerabilities in appliances, operating systems, services, employees, and applications, to replicate what a hacker could exploit. 

Among the many new vulnerabilities exposed by the global pandemic, none is more troublesome to healthcare IT than cybersecurity. In 2021, it will no longer be a matter of if there will be security breach — but when.