Top 5 Defense In Depth Strategies to Combat Healthcare Cyberattacks

Apr 18, 2022
4 min read

While cybersecurity is leading in providing advanced shielding to data, there's a revolting term that has filled the minds of technologists, "Defense in Depth". Although it's an ancient concept, its benefits have recently become widely known and valued in business and industries. Before you continue reading about defense in depth (or DID in short), it is recommended that you know who and when it was invented. Edward Luttwak used this term to describe his theory of the defensive strategy while being employed by the late Roman army in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Well, now you know why it's called ancient! As you read this article, you will understand the concept of Defense in Depth and how it has mainly helped combat cyberattacks in the healthcare industry.

What's Defense in Depth?

Defense in depth is originally a military strategy used to put multiple mechanisms or layers of defense to slow down the advances of an attacker. This same strategy applies in cybersecurity, where security agents or experts put in multiple layers of protection to stop attackers from getting unauthorized access to your data. In simpler terms, if one part of the security solution fails, then another part acts as a resistance to the attack.

Role of Defense in Depth Strategy in the Healthcare Industry

As organizations have discovered, cyber security alone is not enough to stop the increasing number of data breaches and cyber hacks. Combined with the complexity and sophistication of the attacks, organizations realize they cannot rely only on cyber security. Based on this fact, the healthcare industry has grown highly dependent on the defense in depth strategy for protecting its most valuable asset- "patient data". When cybercriminals attack a facility's data and operation systems, care can be disrupted due to software failures. Due to multiple major and minor cyber breaches each year, the healthcare industry has moved one foot toward advanced cybersecurity practices to prevent all cyber-attacks.

Five Ways to Implement This Strategy

Physical Security

One primary way to apply defense in depth strategy is by physical security. Here, physical security refers to protecting buildings or host sites that act as the center of all data. Defense in depth strategy in such areas is applied in the forms of biometrics and key cards. The main function of the key cards or biometrics is to block unauthorized access. Along with host site protection, the physical safety of devices is equally important. Loss of electronic health information is the most common way cybersecurity is compromised, whether by accident or theft. It mostly happens due to a loss of data storage devices. Such devices should include limited physical access. It is also important to protect the storage devices from all environmental hazards such as fire, water etc.

Network Security

You might be wondering how to start controlling connectivity across all environments! Well, the answer is by implementing network security.

Network security can be attained by limiting network access through an organization. Setting up broadband capability within a home or office is quick and simple with wireless routing, network segmentation and network access controls. Moreover, a firewall in a network edge is considered to be a source of network security. But it's a colossal blunder to rely entirely on a firewall. Firewalls are only a piece of the much more extensive security process. Another way to implement defense in depth in network security includes installing and maintaining anti-virus software. An anti-virus software predominantly focuses on preventing the network from external malware and cyber threats through continuously updated protection. The data on an infected machine could be stolen, destroyed, or defaced. Even an attacker can easily take over such systems.

Strong Passwords

A password is the first line of defense against unauthorized access to a computer. An attacker cannot be stopped from trying to gain access if they have a strong password. However, strong passwords will prevent them from gaining access quickly. A combination of such strong passwords and access controls helps prevent unauthorized access. A strong password should never have sequential numbers or letters. It should not be short or contain any personal information. Rather, it should be a mixture of strong and complex characters to be hacked. Also, it is recommended to update the system regularly and configure it so that passwords can be changed regularly.

Control Access to Protected Health Information (PHI)

Another protective method to combat cyberattacks using the defense in depth strategy is limiting protected health information access to authorized personnel only. It can be executed by an authorized person or even an administrator. It is imperative to determine which employees should access files prior to setting these permissions. Access can also extend to specific roles such as physicians, nurses, billing specialists, etc. This case requires extensive attention to ensure that staff are assigned with the correct roles and access is provided accordingly.

End-to-End Encryption

Healthcare organizations should use end-to-end encryption methods to transfer information between two endpoints securely. It reduces the impact and costs of a data breach massively. Encryption is one of the most effective means of technical security. Traditionally, encryption is seen as an application-level feature, but including it to the application itself can add an important layer of defense-in-depth by shielding the system from infrastructure-level failures. During a transaction, the data containing patient details is encrypted at the sender's end, and it remains encrypted throughout the process. Additionally, the data remains encrypted after reaching the recipient's system. An authorized person or recipient can decrypt this protected information.

Overall, to maintain the highest level of security at all times, organizations must take multiple defense-in-depth measures. This strategy promises that healthcare data will be protected for the foreseeable future.