Top 3 Healthcare Security Takeaways from HIMSS 2015

Security was a major area of focus at HIMSS 2015 in Chicago. From my observations, here are a few of the key takeaways from the many meetings, sessions, exhibits, and discussions in which I participated:

Top-of-Mind: Breaches are top-of-mind, especially cybercrime breaches such as those recently reported by Anthem and Premera. No healthcare organization wants to be the next headline, and incur the staggering business impact. Regulatory compliance is still important, but in most cases not currently the top concern.

Go Beyond: Regulatory compliance is necessary but not enough to sufficiently mitigate risk of breaches. To have a fighting chance at avoiding most breaches, and minimizing impact of breaches that do occur, healthcare organizations must go way beyond the minimum but sufficient for compliance with regulations.

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Multiple Breaches: Cybercrime breaches are just one kind of breach. There are several others, for example:

  • There are also breaches from loss or theft of mobile devices which, although often less impactful (because they often involve a subset rather than all patient records), do occur far more frequently than the cybercrime breaches that have hit the news headlines recently.
  • Insider breach risks are way underappreciated, and saying they are not sufficiently mitigated would be a major understatement. This kind of breach involves a healthcare worker accidentally exposing sensitive patient information to unauthorized access. This occurs in practice if patient data is emailed in the clear, put unencrypted on a USB stick, posted to an insecure cloud, or sent via an unsecured file transfer app.
  • Healthcare workers are increasingly empowered with mobile devices (personal, BYOD and corporate), apps, social media, wearables, Internet of Things, etc. These enable amazing new benefits in improving patient care, and also bring major new risks. Well intentioned healthcare workers, under time and cost pressure, have more and more rope to do wonderful things for improving care, but also inadvertently trip over with accidents that can lead to breaches. Annual “scroll to the bottom and click accept” security awareness training is often ineffective, and certainly insufficient.
  • To improve effectiveness of security awareness training, healthcare organizations need to engage healthcare workers on an ongoing basis. Practical strategies I heard discussed at this year’s HIMSS include gamified spear phishing solutions to help organizations simulate spear phishing emails, and healthcare workers recognize and avoid them. Weekly or biweekly emails can be used to help workers understand recent healthcare security events such as breaches in peer organizations (“keeping it real” strategy), how they occurred, why it matters to the healthcare workers, the patients, and the healthcare organization, and how everyone can help.
  • Ultimately any organization seeking achieve a reasonable security posture and sufficient breach risk mitigation must first successfully instill a culture of “security is everyone’s job”.

What questions do you have? What other security takeaways did you get from HIMSS?