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Using Firewalls to Prevent Health Data Security Risks

Healthcare data security is at high risk and organizations need to ensure that their firewalls are able to handle modern health IT security threats.

Healthcare data security requires firewalls.

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Outside attacks pose healthcare data security risks as organizations continue to digitize their IT infrastructures. The advanced technology being deployed needs to be protected, which is why network firewalls need to adapt to current and future IT infrastructure trends.

The Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Network Firewalls predicted that by 2020, 25 percent of new firewalls will include integration with a cloud-based cloud access security broker (CASB), primarily connected through APIs.

The report also predicted that virtualized versions of network firewalls will make up 10 percent of the market in 2020, which is up from 5 percent in 2017.

Firewalls are the first line of defense for securing healthcare network against the public internet. Firewalls are digital walls that stand between protected health data and potentially dangerous malware.

Following an established set of rules, firewalls actively monitor incoming and outgoing traffic. In doing so, a firewall blocks the secure network from the internet and only allows pre-cleared data to pass through.

Organizations can block access from inside the network to public websites they deem harmful or deny access to the network based on specifically outlined credentials. Firewalls can be adjusted to allow remote access as needed and can be included in mobility or virtualization solutions.

Firewalls also protect the network from malware, specifically viruses and worms, along with phishing tools and rootkits. Firewalls recognize malware and block a website, user, or file from being accessed by a user from within the network.

All firewalls offer NGFW or third generation firewall technology, according to Gartner.

“Enterprise firewalls continue to gradually replace stand-alone network IPS appliances at the enterprise edge,” Gartner analysts explained. “Although this is happening now, some enterprises will continue to choose to have best-of-breed next-generation IPSs (NGIPSs). Many enterprises are looking to firewall vendors to provide cloud-based malware-detection instances to aid them in their advanced threat detection efforts, as a cost-effective alternative to stand-alone sandboxing solutions.” 

 The SANS Institute notes that medical records are highly valued by identity thieves because of the personal patient information they contain, a reality that makes medical institutions valuable targets for hackers looking to sell identities on the black market.  

The value of EHRs and clinical data requires healthcare firewalls to cover more ground than other industry firewall solutions. Organizations cannot leave any security gaps for hackers to potentially exploit.

Organizations also need to protect Internet of Things (IoT) and connected medical devices connected to the network, along with the computers and smartphones accessing the network. Connected medical devices are Wi-Fi enabled and use the network to collect patient data and monitor health.

While hackers may not get the information they’re looking for directly from connected medical devices, they can use these devices as a means to freely access the entire network. Medical devices are often overlooked as a cybersecurity gap because many of them lack traditional interfaces associated with accessing the network.

Remote network access is becoming more common with telemedicine and wearables and coordinating virtual private networks (VPNs) with the firewall is an important step. Remote access makes the network more vulnerable, but tightening security too much can block valuable data from getting through or cause access problems for users, which can negate the convenience of remote access.

Firewalls are one of the oldest and most consistent building blocks of secure IT infrastructure. Firewalls deny access to most malware intending to harm an organization’s network and act as the foundation for all other network security.

A solid firewall protects the network from the most common blunt attacks. It can also provide IT departments with insight into the most common types of attacks the network is receiving to build up protection where it is needed.