Healthcare Cloud Security: A Guide to Getting Started

| Author , tagged in Security
Cloudticity, L.L.C.

The healthcare industry experiences more data breaches than any other industry, with health records selling for up to 10X  more than any other record type on the black market.

At the same time, as healthcare organizations race to the public cloud chasing better scalability, cost savings, and clinical efficiency advantages, new challenges related to the security and privacy of sensitive patient data have arisen. Traditional security tools fall short in cloud environments and IT teams must adopt new tools, processes, and skills to address them, or risk exposing sensitive healthcare data to thirsty hackers.

In this blog we’ll discuss the most common healthcare cloud security challenges and then provide 12 steps you can take to build the foundation for a secure, compliant healthcare cloud.

Top Healthcare Cloud Security Challenges

Securing cloud environments is very different from securing on-premise environments. Whereas on-premises you own the servers and can see them with your own eyes, in the cloud you are merely leasing space on a pay-as-you-go basis from a cloud service provider (CSP). It’s like renting a movie on-demand with Netflix versus going to the video store.

This removes much of the heavy lifting that comes with managing infrastructure. Everything from hiring infrastructure staff to paying the HVAC bill on the data center can be eliminated or repurposed when you use the cloud. Unfortunately, this also creates huge challenges for security teams that lack visibility into the environment.

Here are the top healthcare cloud security challenges that IT teams struggle with.

1. Lack of control and visibility.

CSPs make it easy for cloud users to spin up computing environments, test out new things, and tear them down while only paying for what is used. That is great news for innovative development and data science teams that want to try a lot of things without the bottleneck of waiting for IT to provision the servers or the risk associated with trying something that fails. 

Unfortunately, this gives practitioners a lot of power to deploy new environments that may or may not be up to code with the company’s latest security standards. In fact, these types of security misconfigurations, where a resource is deployed with suboptimal security settings, are the most common culprit  when it comes to cloud security failures across all industries.

2. Lack of IT resources.

The rapid adoption of cloud services has greatly outpaced the adoption of cloud skills among IT personnel in the workforce. Cloud skills are still a relatively new development when compared to other job skills and they take time to acquire. For example, getting a high level Solutions Architect Certification with Amazon Web Services (AWS) requires dozens of hours of study, several prerequisite exams, and it’s recommended that someone spend two years working with the AWS cloud, or more, 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 number one most sought after skill on the market today, and the best talent gets scooped up quickly and offered competitive benefits and salaries that are a tough match for most organizations, especially non-profit health systems and healthcare partner startups. 

3. Difficult, complex tools.

Getting the right tools for healthcare cloud security management is important, but that’s only the first step. You then have to manage and optimize those tools going forward.

Prisma Cloud by Palo Alto Networks is a best-in-breed tool for cloud security posture management. While the tool is robust in functionality and provides granular visibility into cloud resources and networks, it’s incredibly complex to set up and manage. Using it requires a steep learning curve. Palo Alto Networks reports it’s typical for organizations to spend 12 to 18 months with the tool before fully operationalizing it.

Alert fatigue is another issue. It takes time to deploy, test, and optimize your rulesets in order to create alert prioritization that makes sense for your organization. If you have thousands of alerts and not enough time or resources to answer them all, then you have an expensive tool with limited use and data that could be at risk.

4. Insecure APIs.

Commonly, CSPs offer various application programming interfaces (APIs) and interfaces to cater to their clients’ needs. These interfaces are typically well-documented to ensure ease of use for the CSP’s customers.

Nevertheless, this can lead to potential problems if a client fails to adequately secure their cloud-based infrastructure interfaces. The same documentation intended to assist customers can be exploited by cybercriminals to pinpoint and take advantage of potential means to access and extract sensitive information from an organization’s cloud ecosystem.

5. Increasing cyber threats.

Global cyber attacks increased by 38% last year. Hackers know they can’t easily compromise a CSP data center, but they can easily exploit weak security on the part of cloud users. 

On top of that, threat actors are learning increasingly sophisticated tactics for hijacking account identities and compromising sensitive data. As organizations increase their use of cloud services, the attack surface area broadens, creating risks if the proper monitoring, rulesets, and guardrails are not in place from the start.

Getting Started with Healthcare Cloud Security

Despite these challenges, is possible to enable continuous healthcare cloud security so that your organization can operate with speed and agility, without compromising security. This guide aims to provide healthcare organizations with a roadmap for building a secure and compliant cloud environment while capitalizing on the advantages of cloud computing.

1. Understand the Regulatory Landscape

Before taking the first steps toward securing your healthcare cloud, familiarize yourself with the relevant regulations and standards governing healthcare data protection. Key regulations include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and industry-specific guidelines like the HITRUST Common Security Framework (CSF). Ensure your cloud provider is compliant with these regulations, and the services you utilize meet the necessary requirements.

2. Choose the Right Cloud Provider

Select a cloud provider with a strong track record in healthcare security. The three hyperscalers, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google all offer healthcare-specific services that have met HIPAA and HITRUST benchmarks on their end that can be configured to meet your healthcare compliance needs.

In addition, they all offer an ecosystem of healthcare-specific consulting partners that can help you optimize your security posture and fill in gaps.

3. Understand the Shared Responsibility Model

Before building out any cloud venture, get a clear understanding of the Shared Responsibility Model. It details which security responsibilities are owned by your organization versus which ones are already taken care of by the CSP. Once you understand the model and your responsibilities as an organization, create detailed documentation on how you will secure each potential attack vector, who will own that portion, and what processes are in place to monitor and enforce those policies.

4. Implement a Strong Identity and Access Management (IAM) Strategy

Consider that every person at your organization who accesses your network is a potential cloud security point of failure. That’s why identity and access management (IAM) is so important. A software engineer doesn’t need access to the entire company source code repository. Similarly, the HR person doesn’t need access to sensitive client medical data.

Properly managing user access to your healthcare cloud environment is critical for maintaining security. Implement a robust IAM strategy that includes multi-factor authentication (MFA), role-based access control (RBAC), and the principle of least privilege access. Regularly review and update access permissions to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data and systems and that past employees’ access has been terminated.

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. Regularly back up your data, both on-site and off-site, 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 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. Regularly review and update your plan to ensure it remains effective.

8. Automate Security Through the Software Development Lifecycle

The cloud allows developers to move fast, and 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 through Build, Deploy, and Run. 

The majority of best practices needed to keep your data safe in the cloud, like maintaining strong IAM passwords and tight permissions on objects, can be automated through code. By enabling these automated guardrails, developers can execute innovations quickly without compromising security.

9. Leverage Managed Cloud Services for Enhanced Security

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 infrastructure, applications, and operations. By leveraging managed cloud services, your organization can focus on its core competencies while offloading the complexities of managing and maintaining cloud infrastructure, applications, and security.

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 common security framework (CSF) is the most widely used security framework across healthcare organizations.83% of the industry has adopted the framework because it is so comprehensive when it comes to securing healthcare data.

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


Securing your healthcare cloud environment is an ongoing process that requires constant vigilance, commitment, and adaptation to evolving threats and technologies. By implementing the practices outlined in this guide you can create a secure and compliant healthcare cloud environment that protects patient sensitive 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 our managed cloud services can help you improve your healthcare cloud security and reduce your risk of successful attack.


TAGGED: Security

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