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Gamal Emara

Why a Smart Hospital Needs to Look After the Security of its Network

Few industries stand to benefit more in a connected world than healthcare, if you consider how a hospital currently operates – running on a network of machines that are constantly monitoring, measuring and analysing, dealing with hundreds of people walking in and out of its doors on a daily basis, and on high alert around the clock.

This is the ideal environment for smart, connected devices with greater autonomous, predictive and analytical capability. Turning a siloed device-driven environment into a connected one has the potential to enhance existing operations considerably: improving speed, efficiency and reliability, and ultimately enabling better patient care and experiences. It is little wonder then that US hospitals are already estimated to have as many as 10 to 15 IoT devices per bed, according to research by Zingbox.

Unfortunately, the security considerations of all this connectivity are significant, with implications for both patient data and care. Reports have shown that up to 89% of healthcare organisations that have adopted an IoT strategy have experienced an IoT-related data breach, while patient records are some of the most sought-after by hackers (fetching up to $250 on the black market according to Trustwave).

So what more can hospitals do to anticipate the risks of future connectivity? And how can they set up their networks to fight back?

Anticipating and overcoming IoT risks

For any network manager responding to these questions, the starting point is recognising the vulnerabilities that are inherent in large networks of connected devices. With every component offering a potential point of failure or entry to a would-be attacker, the more devices a hospital brings in, the greater the risk of a significant data breach.

But it is not just patient data that could be at risk in a worst-case scenario – far more worrying are the implications for patient care. A device that has autonomy to measure and deliver drug doses, for example, could suffer from a software glitch, or be taken over by a malicious attacker. Meanwhile during an episode of unexpected downtime, a device that isn’t critical to life – such as an MRI scanner – could gain preferential access to one that is, like a heart monitor.

These may be extreme scenarios, but they are something for which every hospital and healthcare provider must prepare. And guarding against them means addressing a key source of IoT vulnerability: network visibility.

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