This year, there are 156 per cent more Singaporeans using the Doctor Anywhere telemedicine app compared to last year, according to Statista. Healthcare has never been this accessible, and patients are excited.

But new tech can also introduce risks. The more platforms and tools we bring in, the more places hackers can target to get our data. This is especially worrying when the sensitive data mentioned here is actually our health records.

Terry Ray, Senior Vice President of Strategy for Healthcare and Financial Services and an Imperva Fellow at Imperva, shares how new tech such as telehealth and the cloud can potentially compromise healthcare data.

The challenge with securing healthcare data

There are four things that make securing healthcare systems trickier than governments or financial services.

First, healthcare organisations rarely build their own tech services, unlike finance or defense agencies. Most use existing tools built by third party companies instead, Terry says.

This makes security more complex, as there are more channels to guard. Telehealth platforms, for instance, are external platforms with patient data flowing through it. These present a new attack point.

Second, healthcare services rely heavily on data. Financial services or retail companies can fall back on paper systems if their networks are down, but healthcare can’t carry on if doctors don’t have access to X-ray scans or a patient’s medical history.

Third, healthcare data reveals a lot about someone. When it’s lost, the consequences are much more severe. Financial institutions only know who you are and how you pay, but healthcare knows how many children someone has, and even the names of their family members. Your medical histories can potentially be used as a tool for blackmail or intimidation, Terry says.

Healthcare organisations hold data on almost every citizen. “Everybody goes to the hospital. So they’re going to know something about everybody,” he explains.

Finally, healthcare rightly prioritises patient care. This means there’s often less budget and expertise in IT teams to protect against cyber threats.

More visibility

The sheer volume of data healthcare organisations collect makes security challenging. Organisations can start with getting greater visibility into how data is used and shared.

Imperva helps organisations to comprehend when data was being accessed, who is accessing it, where is it being accessed from, how was it being accessed, and what type of data was being accessed. These are crucial details required as part of audit that IT teams need to understand, even before problems occur.

In addition, the shift to cloud will only make security more complex. Data on the cloud requires a different set of controls from on premise data, Terry explains. Imperva allows organisations to monitor all of their data, no matter the location where it’s stored (on-premise or on cloud) or how large the database might be.

Today, Imperva is helping one of US’s largest government and private healthcare organisations to secure their databases. IT officials can easily audit or identify suspicious behaviour, such as retrieving excess of hundreds or thousands of healthcare records within a short period of time, when needed.

Limit data loss

The next important piece in healthcare security is to limit data loss. This should be paramount, Terry says. If the network goes down, things will return to normal once it’s restored. “If data gets stolen, you don’t get it back.”

A US healthcare insurance provider suffered a severe data breach in 2014, and lost millions of healthcare records. Its first priority after the incident was to immediately reduce the risk of data loss.

Imperva came in and put in place a limit control on how much data can be extracted from its system. Once a certain number of records have been taken, the connectivity access will be immediately turned off. “Even if they said one person can access a million records, they’ve already reduced their risk 80 times,” explains Terry.

Warn of suspicious activity

In June 2018, Singapore’s health system suffered a cyberattack which resulted in 1.5 million patients’ records being compromised – including the prime minister’s. A Committee of Inquiry (COI) was convened, and in 2019, the Singapore government released a report of security recommendations. One of these was that IT staff must be able to identify the signs of a data breach.

AI can help with this, notes Terry. It can comb through vast amounts of data to understand trends and sieve out abnormal activities. “You will have to have some form of machine learning to be able to automate that process, or else you’re just going to have gaps everywhere.”

Traditionally, IT teams would create individual rules for which data types each employee can access. This is tedious, and isn’t feasible for healthcare organisations. Many of them can have thousands of databases and tens of thousands of doctors and nurses accessing them every day, Terry points out.

Automation and Machine Learning (ML) will help security teams identify and detect potential threats faster. Imperva’s data security solutions can be used for all types of data, no matter where they are stored.

Healthcare data is particularly sensitive, making it a top target for malicious actors. AI and simple tools for visibility can help to protect patients’ most vulnerable information.