The healthcare sector has been grappling with looming cyber security challenges over the last several years. Healthcare records offer a high-value target for cybercriminals looking to make quick money on the dark web or initiate more focused attacks. Additionally, with lives potentially at stake, caregivers become increasingly vulnerable to disruptive digital acts, including healthcare ransomware attacks.
Healthcare institutes generate tons of data containing confidential and valuable insights. As the industry switches from paper and documents to a digitized setting, the attack surface keeps on expanding. With data being one of the critical pillars, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and desktop as a service (DaaS) are earning good word among caregivers and patients alike.
Fear that critical patient information is always on the line? Keeping up with regulatory changes seems a challenging task? VDI solutions tackle these pressing issues with their innovative security offerings.
In fact, they are silently but rapidly becoming a potential weapon in the cyber security armory against ransomware attacks in healthcare. Ironically, data security and privacy have been a primary tight spot for organizations that delayed their migration to DaaS and VDI solutions. But now, the same leading-edge desktop virtualization technologies are finding use in identifying and combating cybercrimes.
This article explains how healthcare settings can profit from the security benefits of DaaS and VDI services.
Secure Healthcare VDI images
Creating an efficient image implies providing a lightweight VDI solution. Healthcare environments are characterized by numerous divisions in a mix. Hence, building the correct image for each domain is vital. For instance:
- Executive staff (persistent image)
- Labs and healthcare contractors (pooled image)
- Department-based employees (both persistent and pooled images)
Each of these images will have its respective stack of policies focused on the end users. Accordingly, healthcare IT can deliver applications through user cohorts, and these images can remain light and clean.
By designing secure master golden images, IT admins can define updates to a single master image (in the respective division) and update that instance. Based on that, a reboot cycle for all the secondary images pointing to the master will make way for updates. Such management helps streamline a controlled VDI deployment.
Avoid Downtime during Crises
Like any other industry, downtime also translates to a loss of business in healthcare too. During system downtime, medical practitioners cannot respond to patient complaints, follow up on leads, or deliver care.
In healthcare, more than money is at risk. If computer systems are suspended, staff cannot book emergency appointments, and doctors and nurses cannot confirm medications or procedure timings. Eventually, lives are on the line.
During natural disasters such as a fire outbreak or floods, paper documents could get lost, compromised, or tattered. If the equipment has sustained damages, medical records saved on-premise might also get lost. Computers can freeze amidst a task, resulting in unsaved documents and lost progress.
DaaS keeps healthcare records in independent, centralized servers in real-time. As such, the odds of data loss with onsite files or hard copies reduce when medical staff save information on the cloud.
Besides, VDI solves general problems, such as load balancing, which often leads to standstills. If a single server fails to manage a process, DaaS vendors distribute the demand over multiple servers, ensuring healthcare institutes do not short-circuit during peak times.
Stricter Authorization to Avert Ransomware in Healthcare
An inquiry revealed that a Huntington Hospital (the US) employee grabbed the records of 13,000 patients without access permission. The now-former employee has been convicted of a criminal HIPAA offense. Worse, the hospital had to provide one-year complimentary identity theft protection services as prevention.
In most healthcare ransomware attacks, security loopholes occur from internal sources, including disgruntled workers or contractors who want to access the systems for vested interests. To avoid critical medical records from falling into the hands of suspicious people, healthcare needs more than a simple password approach. Simply put, a comprehensive VDI role-based access control (RBAC) matrix.
DaaS-based RBAC grants resource access to medical staff on a need-to-use basis according to their roles at the healthcare facility. This approach to identity and access management (IAM) allows only those with valid reasons to log into the virtual servers without compromising patient privacy.
Those with permission to use virtual desktops will require approval via digital certificates, biometrics interaction, or multi-factor authentication (MFA) before accessing relevant data to perform their duties.
Data Encryption as an Additional Security Layer
Private sensitive details, including protected health information (PHI) and electronic health records (EHR), are among the popular prizes for threat actors. Therefore, the guidelines for caregivers analyzing patients’ data entail stringent data protection requirements that come with hefty fines if not fulfilled.
Perimeter security approaches, such as firewalls, to strengthen the cyber security fabric are no longer capable enough to thwart today’s healthcare ransomware attacks. Complementing them with VDI’s data encryption feature is a must in a layered approach to data security.
Whenever EHRs float across multiple systems, their confidentiality and integrity become vulnerable to various risks – Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks, accidental exposure, and insider threats. Encrypting them in transit, mostly via the transport layer security (TLS) protocol, protects from many of these cyber risks.
Encryption encodes EHRs and PHI in such a way that only legitimate users can access them. It denies unauthorized third parties who do not have the required decryption key from reading or modifying classified information. In other words, even if a would-be interceptor physically nabs a server with encrypted information, that data remains completely undecipherable without the correct secret key.
Encryption does not guarantee the integrity of PHI – at rest and in transit. That said, as data is in constant evolution, healthcare settings can leverage it to check their backup integrity.
Frequent Security Patches and Updates
Unpatched software is among the primary reasons behind ransomware attacks in healthcare globally. Network threats are continuously evolving as malicious actors keep innovating their intrusion tactics. Cybercriminals often exploit critical security holes only a few hours after a software’s public launch. For small- and medium-scale healthcare centers, keeping software updated without triggering serious operation disturbances is challenging.
As such, regular software and app updates are crucial to boost the protection of confidential resources from potential healthcare ransomware attacks. Conventional IT security models do not execute timely updates or as often as necessary, thus exposing healthcare data and networks to digital intrusions.
DaaS vendors regularly install patches for their clients (healthcare settings), who can continue leveraging the cloud services without operational downtime. This reduces their chances of becoming victims of ransomware and saves them time in the process. When the staff reside in remote locations, VDI software solutions help ensure all employees are up-to-date and remain productive.
Secure Data Access from a Single Location
Moving healthcare data to DaaS allows medical staff to accumulate diverse databases in a single place. No doubt, the bulk of patients’ data is safeguarded. However, saving them in multiple sources – hard drives, spreadsheets, and hard copies – keeps petty items, such as a post-surgery note or a prescription, at the risk of getting misplaced or lost.
Storing medical records in a DaaS infrastructure opens new avenues for data management and integration (DMI) protocols. DMI is a complicated and evolving area. Simply put, it incorporates procedures and policies that companies implement to ensure that the right people have timely access to accurate information.
For hospitals and clinics, having plain and updated records is paramount before service providers shift or merge them with other data. If errors occur, for instance, in medical histories, patient details, prescriptions, or financial information, the healthcare institute can end up draining piles of cash and public backlash. Not to mention the physical harm if patients do not receive accurate treatment.
DaaS to Make Healthcare Cyber Security Smarter
Safeguarding critical resources in virtual servers is not only an IT issue but a paramount aspect of overall business strategy. The continuous rise in the sophistication of ransomware attacks in healthcare has influenced caregivers to realize the security benefits of the DaaS architecture.
Besides, the recent ransomware attack at the Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health is evident enough that cyber security intrusions continue to plague the healthcare system. Hence, organizations are inviting IT security pros to boardroom discussions for a well-thought-out security roadmap.
Today, virtual desktops are gradually replacing desktop setups in healthcare institutes. The perks end-users get to experience are hardware-agnostic desktop access, easy IT maintenance, better data security, and so on. Moreover, the security advances that VDI services boast are motivating healthcare that has been reluctant to embrace the technology to at least reassess their feasibility.
The intertwined nature of providing care reflects how an attack on one section of healthcare organizations can trigger a domino effect. While DaaS is not the silver bullet against ransomware in healthcare, it will keep classified medical resources organized and as secure as possible.