Identities, non-human identities and data security in healthcare

Itzik Alvas. Co-founder & CEO, Entro
May 30, 2024
healthcare nhi blg

Data is the lifeblood of the modern healthcare industry. Yet, as technology weaves itself ever deeper into its fabric, a significant concern arises — non-human identities-based cyber attacks that put sensitive information and lives at unnecessary risk. Consequently, the healthcare industry finds itself in the crosshairs of malicious actors, drawn by the treasure trove of valuable data and the potential to sow chaos. 

The stakes have never been higher, as a single breach can shatter trust, cripple operations, and put lives on the line. For all practical purposes, data security in healthcare is in shambles. So, what do we do about it?

How important is data safety in healthcare?

Healthcare companies are in general trusted with vast amounts of sensitive data that includes PHI and PII and a data breach can really throw a wrench in the works. Consequences can range from breaching patient privacy and trust to substantial financial losses and regulatory penalties.

Securing this data is not merely an IT concern; it is a fundamental imperative for patient safety and the continuity of healthcare operations. Effective Identity Access Management (IAM) forms the bedrock of data protection and healthcare cybersecurity. 

What are the key cybersecurity challenges and weaknesses in healthcare?

The complex and interconnected nature of healthcare IT environments poses significant challenges for implementing effective IAM:

Complexity of managing non-human identities

Implementing effective IAM for non-human identities is difficult in complex healthcare IT environments with diverse systems and devices. Each connected device requires a unique identity to authenticate and communicate securely, but many healthcare organizations need help to maintain visibility and control over this expanding non-human identity landscape.

Insecure legacy systems and devices

Many healthcare organizations rely on legacy systems and devices that need robust security controls and are difficult to protect. These outdated systems often run on unsupported operating systems, have known vulnerabilities, and cannot be easily patched or upgraded. 

What are the types of access controls?

There are three main types of access control: 

  • Discretionary access control (DAC) allows resource owners to have the discretion to control access to their resources. 
  • Mandatory access control (MAC), on the other hand, strictly enforces access based on security labels assigned by the system. 
  • Role-based access control (RBAC) grants access based on a user’s organizational role and responsibilities.

While RBAC is the dominant model in healthcare, it has limitations in dynamic environments. Attribute-based access control (ABAC) is emerging as an alternative, allowing for finer-grained access decisions based on various attributes of users, resources, and the environment.

What are the benefits of IAM in healthcare?

Implementing IAM in the healthcare sector is necessary for protecting sensitive patient data, controlling access to critical systems, and managing digital identities effectively. A well-designed IAM framework offers numerous benefits that enhance security, improve operational efficiency, and support compliance with industry regulations. Here are the key advantages of implementing IAM in healthcare:

  1. Enforcing least privilege access: Employees are granted access with the principle of least privilege, which means users receive only the minimum permissions required to perform their duties. This helps keep your PHI safe and sound and reduces the risk of any funny business or data breaches.
  2. Enhancing clinician productivity: Implementing  Single Sign-On (SSO) best pracitces will lower the usage of non-huamn identities and tokens for human manual tasks ,thus less NHIs to monitor and manage
  3. Centralized identity management: It provides a centralized system for managing user identities, access policies, and permissions throughout the organization. 
  4. Supporting regulatory compliance: IAM solutions help healthcare organizations comply with HIPAA and other industry regulations by implementing strong access controls, maintaining audit trails, and generating compliance reports.
  5. Mitigating data breach risks: By using systems platforms such  as Entro, you can understand the NHI permissions map, and reduce the non used permissions ,follow the least privilege best practice and reduce the chance to have non-human identities with excessive permissions.
  6. Facilitating secure data sharing between non-human identities: It’s crucial for securing non human identities in the healthcare sector. It helps you manage access for things like medical devices, APIs, and RPA tools, so you can keep your data safe without slowing down innovation.
  7. Managing third-party access: IAM allows you to monitor vendors and remote access to your systems thus reducing third-party risk. By implementing least privilege principles and monitoring third-party activities, you can ensure that everyone plays by your security rules.
  8. Enabling Zero-Trust security: Lastly, IAM serves as the foundation for implementing a Zero-Trust security model. In this model, no user or device is automatically trusted — authentication is required for every access attempt.

What’s the difference between human and non-human identities

As far as we look into the history of cybersecurity, IAM has focused only on human users — employees, partners, and customers. However, non-human identities are rapidly proliferating, including service accounts, APIs, bots, and IoT devices. This includes connected medical devices, clinical software, and research applications in healthcare. 

It’s all good, except that non-human identities often have powerful, always-on access to sensitive data and systems, and traditional IAM tools designed for human users can’t handle their sheer scale and characteristics. We need specialized solutions to prevent non-human identities security attacks. Without visibility and control over non-human identities, there are heightened risks for access management and compliance violations in the healthcare sector.

What steps can be taken to enhance the security posture of a healthcare company?

Securing identities and access is a cornerstone of healthcare cybersecurity. Let’s review the broad implementation plan to ensure you have everything covered.

PAM

Securing identities and access is the key to keeping healthcare organizations safe from cyber threats. Implementing a rock-solid Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution will ensure that admin accounts have access only to what they need when they need it.

IAM

As clearly outlined earlier, you need IAM. But on top of it, it’s worth checking up on your permissions and accesses occasionally and right-sizing them accordingly. When employees come and go, automated user provisioning and de-provisioning based on HR data will help ensure that only current employees have the keys to the kingdom.

Non-human identities management

Interconnected devices, cloud services, and consequently, non-human identities are becoming the norm in healthcare. There is a significant number of devices and systems that require proper management of their non-human identities.

First things first, you need to round up all those cats — from IoT devices to virtual machines, containers, and APIs — and put them all in one central management system. Now, just like with humans, you want to enforce the least privilege for non-human identities and workloads. Each machine shall be in its own little bubble, so if one gets compromised, the damage is contained. And for those legacy medical IoT devices that might have some weak spots, implementing compensating controls like network segmentation and behavioral monitoring can help keep them in line. All in all, we need to take some stringent measures for non human identity security in the healthcare sector.

Continuous monitoring and scanning

We’ve covered a lot of ground talking about IAM, PAM, and non-human identity management. But continuous monitoring and secrets scanning really ties it all together. Implementing comprehensive logging and monitoring across all identities and resources is imperative for maintaining a strong security posture in healthcare. By integrating with SIEM and SOAR tools, you can correlate identity and access data with other security events to detect anomalies in real time. And if something fishy is detected, automated response actions can swoop in to contain the damage. 

How to remain in compliance with HIPAA?

When it comes to staying on the right side of HIPAA, it’s not just about keeping patient data under lock and key. You’ve got to make sure you’re covering all your bases (read: identity and access controls), from human users to the non-human identities. Furthermore, you must maintain logging and monitoring capabilities as well as regularly perform access reviews to demonstrate compliance with HIPAA’s minimum necessary standard. 

On top of it all, by working together and sharing best practices, organizations can stay ahead of the curve and make sure everyone’s on the same page when it comes to data security compliance in healthcare. Think of it as a team sport. You can’t win the game if everyone’s playing by different rules.

Sounds too much to handle? Meet Entro. Entro is the first holistic non-human identities security platform that detects, safeguards, and enriches secrets with context. With it, you can govern all non-human identities from a single interface, proactively identify and remediate risks, and simplify compliance with regulations like PCI DSS. All in all, insights into your non-human identity landscape are within your arm’s reach. Take the first step. Book a demo.

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