Healthcare Cloud Security: A Guide to Getting Started

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Cloudticity, L.L.C.

The healthcare sector consistently ranks among the most frequently targeted industries for cyberattacks. Why are healthcare organizations such frequent targets? Cybercriminals know where the money is: Health records sell for up to 10x more than any other record type on the black market. Even when attackers do not aim to steal patient records, they know they can extract large ransoms for holding them hostage.

For healthcare providers, payers, and patients, data breaches can be devastating. Healthcare organizations can suffer significant operational disruptions that put patient care at risk. Even before the smoke clears, organizations begin to experience the financial consequences of these events. Over the long term, they can feel the lingering repercussions of damaged reputations and lost trust. 

Adopting cloud computing services holds the promise of improving security. Cloud service providers (CSPs) might offer more advanced security capabilities than organizations could afford to implement in on-premises environments. In addition, there are numerous security vendors that offer cloud solutions to protect health data in the cloud.

Still, selecting, setting up, and managing cloud security solutions can be challenging—and mistakes can be disastrous. Any issues configuring or administering these solutions could leave security gaps that expose sensitive patient data to attacks.

How can your healthcare organization get started with cloud security? Here are the top challenges and 12 things you can do to mitigate risk.

Top Healthcare Cloud Security Challenges

Securing cloud environments is very different than securing on-premises environments. IT teams often have less visibility of and control over cloud environments. And to manage those environments, they must learn new tools and processes. Unfortunately, IT teams don’t have much time to adopt new ways of working. While they are getting up to speed, attackers are devising new tactics to infiltrate their cloud environments.

Here are some essential healthcare cloud security challenges that IT teams face. 

Lack of visibility and control

CSPs make it easy for users to spin up new computing environments, test out new capabilities, and tear down environments when they’re done. That’s great news for developers and data science teams that are driven to innovate. They can launch new projects fast, without the assistance of IT.

Of course, for IT teams, that streamlined experience can be a problem. When developers and data science teams provision new environments quickly, those environments might not be up to code with the organization’s latest security standards—and that leaves the organization vulnerable. Deploying cloud-based services with suboptimal security settings is one of the most common causes of cloud security failures.

Lack of IT resources

The rapid adoption of cloud services by healthcare organizations and other businesses has greatly outpaced the acquisition of cloud skills among IT personnel. These skills take time to learn. For example, earning a high-level Solutions Architect Certification with Amazon Web Services (AWS) requires dozens of hours of study and several prerequisite exams. AWS recommends that solution architects spend two years or more working with the AWS cloud before even pursuing that certification.

That’s why 80% of enterprises report a skills gap for managing cloud infrastructure and security. Cloud engineering skills remain the most sought-after skills on the market today. The best talent is scooped up quickly and offered competitive salaries that are tough to match for most organizations, especially non-profit health systems and healthcare partner startups. 

Difficult, complex tools

Choosing the right tools for healthcare cloud security management is key, but some teams might not know where to start. Tools for managing public or hybrid cloud environments might not be the same as tools for managing on-premises data centers or even private clouds. The growing number of available tools from CSPs and third parties can complicate the selection process.

And of course, selecting the right tools is only the first step. You then have to operate them, and that can be challenging. Prisma Cloud by Palo Alto Networks, for example, is a best-in-breed tool for cloud security posture management. It has robust functionality and provides granular visibility into cloud resources and networks—but it’s also complex to set up and manage. Palo Alto Networks reports it’s typical for organizations to spend 12 to 18 months with the tool before fully operationalizing it.

Once tools are up and running, teams can suffer from alert fatigue. Your teams need to optimize tools and create alert prioritizations so they can manage cloud environments efficiently. If you have thousands of alerts and not enough time or resources to address them all, then you have an expensive tool with limited use and data that could be at risk.

Unsecured APIs

Commonly, CSPs offer application programming interfaces (APIs) that cater to their clients’ needs. Providers generally create extensive documentation to help simplify management. Unfortunately, all of that information can also jeopardize API security. Cybercriminals can use the documentation to pinpoint vulnerabilities, which they then exploit to access systems and extract sensitive information. Your team will need to spend time and effort ensuring that APIs are secure. 

Increasing cyber threats

Your organization’s security concerns are justified: Healthcare organizations continue to experience rising cyberattacks, which compound cloud security challenges. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services(HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), there was a 256% rise in large breaches involving hacking and a 264% increase in ransomware attacks in the five years leading up to 2024.

Attackers know they can’t easily compromise a cloud data center. But they can exploit weak security guarding a particular organization’s cloud environment, and they continue to try.

Threat actors are learning increasingly sophisticated tactics for hijacking account identities and compromising sensitive data. And as your organization increases its use of cloud services, your attack surface area broadens, creating additional risks. Establishing robust processes and policies will be critical for addressing these threats from the start.

Getting Started with Healthcare Cloud Security

Despite all the challenges, it is possible to implement robust security and maintain regulatory compliance in the cloud. Following some key best practices can help your organization build a secure, compliant environment while capitalizing on the advantages of cloud computing. 

1. Understand the regulatory landscape

Before securing your healthcare cloud, your team should thoroughly understand relevant regulations and standards governing protected health information (PHI). Key regulations include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and industry-specific guidelines such as the HITRUST Common Security Framework (CSF). Specifically, you will need to understand compliance requirements, including all of the security controls that are relevant to your organization.

2. Choose the right cloud provider

Select a cloud provider with a strong track record in healthcare security. The three largest cloud providers—AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud—all offer healthcare-specific services that have met HIPAA and HITRUST benchmarks. In addition, they all enable access to an ecosystem of healthcare-specific consulting partners that can help you optimize your security posture and fill in gaps.

3. Take advantage of the shared responsibility model

The major CSPs employ a shared responsibility model for securing sensitive data. Providers are responsible for safeguarding physical infrastructure, the network, and hosts. Your organization is responsible for accounts and identities, devices, and your own data. The providers and you share responsibility for securing operating systems, apps, and network controls, depending on the type of cloud deployment.

Once you understand the model and your responsibilities as an organization, create detailed documentation on how you will secure each potential attack vector. Define who will own each portion, and what processes are in place to monitor and enforce policies.

4. Implement a strong identity and access management strategy

Every person in your organization who accesses your network is a potential cloud security point of failure. That’s why strong identity and access management (IAM) is so important. Properly managing user access to your healthcare cloud environment is critical for maintaining security and regulatory compliance.

Implement a strategy that includes role-based access control (RBAC) and the principle of least privilege access. A software engineer doesn’t need access to the entire company source code repository. Similarly, an HR team member doesn’t need access to medical records. Employ multi-factor authentication (MFA) to make sure attackers can’t gain access to your network even if they manage to steal login credentials.

Moving forward, make sure you regularly review and update access permissions to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data and systems. You don’t want terminated employees to still be able to access your network.

5. Encrypt data at rest and in transit

Encrypting sensitive healthcare data, both at rest and in transit, is a crucial step to secure your cloud environment. Use encryption protocols such as TLS for data in transit and AES for data at rest. Additionally, consider implementing tokenization or other data masking techniques to further protect sensitive information.

6. Establish a comprehensive data backup and recovery plan

A robust data backup and recovery plan is essential for ensuring the availability and integrity of your healthcare data. In the event of an attack that locks you out of critical systems, you can restore backed-up data to clean systems and resume operations. Regularly back up your data, both on- and offsite, and test your recovery procedures to ensure that you can quickly and effectively restore operations in the event of a data-loss incident.

7. Monitor and respond to security threats

Implement continuous monitoring and threat detection tools to identify potential security threats and incidents in real time. Establish a robust incident response plan that outlines the roles, responsibilities, and procedures to be followed in the event of a security breach. Frequently review, test, and update your plan to ensure it remains effective.

8. Automate security through the software development lifecycle

The cloud allows developers to move fast—the last thing they want to do is slow down for security. The best way to empower your developers while reducing your security risk is to automate security processes throughout the development lifecycle. 

In fact, the majority of best practices needed to keep your data safe in the cloud—from maintaining strong IAM passwords to ensuring tight permissions on objects—can be automated through code. By setting up these automated guardrails, developers can execute innovations quickly without compromising security.

9. Leverage managed cloud security services

Managed cloud services can help your organization further enhance its security posture. These services, provided by third-party vendors that have been certified by CSPs, can assist in managing, maintaining, and optimizing your cloud environment. By leveraging managed cloud services, your organization can offload management complexities and stay focused on innovation. 

Read the blog: 12 Tips for Choosing a Managed Cloud Services Provider

10. Maintain a security-focused culture

Promote a culture of security within your organization. Encourage employees to prioritize security in their daily activities and decision-making. Regularly communicate the importance of data protection and the role that each staff member plays in maintaining a secure healthcare cloud environment.

11. Conduct regular security assessments and audits

Perform periodic security assessments and audits to evaluate the effectiveness of your security measures and identify potential vulnerabilities. Use the findings from these assessments to make informed decisions about your security strategy and implement improvements as needed.

12. Get HITRUST certified

The HITRUST CSF is the most widely used security framework across healthcare organizations. In fact, 83% of the industry has adopted the framework because it offers a comprehensive approach to securing healthcare data and demonstrating regulatory compliance. 

The certification process is rigorous, especially for high-risk companies pursuing the highest degree of certification, HITRUST r2. However, HITRUST also offers less-comprehensive assessments for organizations wishing to get started with HITRUST without committing to the full r2 assessment.

Working with outside experts can be extremely helpful. By partnering with the right healthcare-focused managed service provider (MSP), you can significantly accelerate the process of achieving HITRUST certification and enhance the efficiency of maintaining it. 

Moving Forward with Cloud Security for Healthcare

For healthcare organizations, cloud technology has tremendous potential for facilitating innovation and enhancing efficiency. But safeguarding sensitive data in the cloud can require significant effort. 

Securing your healthcare cloud environment is an ongoing process that requires constant vigilance, commitment, and adaptation to evolving threats and technologies. By implementing some key best practices, you can build a robust cloud security strategy. That strategy can help you maintain a secure and compliant healthcare cloud environment that protects sensitive patient data while allowing your organization to fully harness the power of cloud computing.

If you want to learn more about healthcare cloud security, download the white paper on the biggest healthcare cybersecurity threats. Or schedule a free consultation to learn how Cloudticity’s managed cloud services can help you improve your healthcare cloud security and reduce your risk of successful attack.

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TAGGED: Security

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