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GUEST BLOG: The Cybersecurity Shortage: Closing the Gap

October 17, 2018
by Mac McMillan, Industry Voice
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The gap between the level of cybersecurity preparation that should exist in the current environment, and the reality, is both troubling and in need of closer examination

We are by all estimates well over a million cybersecurity professionals short of what we need and racing towards an even bigger shortage in the decade to come.  Current approaches are not likely to produce the number of cyber warriors we are going to need to close this gap.  Not for want of good intention, but I believe we won’t achieve our intended goal, because the environment has changed and if we don’t recognize this change we may never catch up.  There are multiple factors affecting this paradigm shift, but the biggest of them all is the rapidly evolving nature of technology that is moving at lightning speeds and the associated exponential growth in threat produced as a byproduct. 

Closely related is what this means for the rapidly expanding competency that cybersecurity professionals will have to possess just to be effective in the future.  We have known for decades that cybersecurity is a dynamically changing field affected by changes in the physical environment, changes in technology, the evolving nature of threat and the operational impacts of users.  The enterprise is never static, and every change presents a new opportunities and new risks.  If we take healthcare as one example of this just the past two decades have witnessed amazing changes in technology adoption, the rise of hyperconnectivity, the increase in the sophistication and frequency of attacks and the endless application of technology to operations, simple and complex.  This will move even faster in the future as technologists are already talking about faster processing speeds, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, etc.  Making it harder and harder for those who have to secure the enterprise to do that.

In fact, today’s cybersecurity professionals have to be as diverse as the thing they are trying to secure, meaning many different cyberwarriors with very different specializations.  Analysts, administrators, engineers, program experts, threat hunters, monitors, architects, etc.  Making it all the more impossible for current approaches to succeed.  The supply is not going to catch up with the demand one cyberwarrior at a time.  That ship has sailed.  All the college programs in the land, although important, are not going to get us there.  You cannot create a cyberwarrior army large enough, fast enough to solve this problem.  We need a different approach.

In today’s and tomorrow’s information technology environment, everyone who uses a computer will need basic cybersecurity skills, and everyone who works in IT will need specific job-related cybersecurity knowledge and we need both general and specialized cybersecurity professionals.  Individuals who write code should know how to do so with security in mind.  Database developers and administrators should understand the threats associated with what they are doing and how to avoid them.  System engineers should understand network security principles and how to apply them to what they do.  And on and on.  Information system designers, developers, manufacturers, consumers and users need to accept and embrace this basic requirement.  Curriculums from the earliest stage where information technology is introduced should include cybersecurity training.  Curriculums in career fields where information technology will be critical to accomplishing that skill should include cybersecurity training.  No information technology degree should be achievable without cybersecurity as part of the curriculum.  We should promote greater professionalization of the cybersecurity field to define specific career paths from the very specialized to the general practitioner to the strategist to ensure not only the expertise needed at the tactical level, but the professionals with the breadth and scope of knowledge and experience needed at the higher levels of responsibility to lead and develop effective cybersecurity strategies and programs. 

The gap between the good guys and the bad guys is growing, because we are still trying to solve the problem in the same antiquated way, one cyberwarrior at a time.  There is zero unemployment in the field right now, and many of the people filling cybersecurity roles today are only marginally competent.  Because not only does it take education in multiple disciplines to be become knowledgeable in the field it takes experience, which can only be attained in time.   We are never going to be successful following the path we’re on today.   We need to recognize the paradigm shift that has occurred and embrace the new reality.  Everyone who deals with information technology has to be part cyberwarrior.  Everyone has the responsibility to understand basic computer security skills and the cyber threats that can keep them from accomplishing their mission.  In the military we call this awareness of risk operational security and every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine from top to bottom is charged with understanding operational risks so they can mitigate them regardless of their job specialty.  

Some organizations are beginning to realize this new reality and are taking steps to change how they approach educating the workforce of the future.  One such organization is the University of Texas, which I had the pleasure of supporting recently, who is building a new graduate certificate program within their healthcare curriculum to train members of the workforce to move into healthcare, particularly former veterans.  What is unique about this curriculum is that they have integrated cybersecurity knowledge so that graduates of this program not only prepare themselves for a career in healthcare by learning practical skills, but they learn about where cybersecurity is important and why they need to understand it to be successful.  Their lab environment is unique in that it replicates the hospital experience, admissions, ER, the smart patient room, OR, radiology, pharmacy, etc. and in each lab cybersecurity will be taught along with the information technology associated with those environments as well as the cyber threats that affect both privacy and security there.  A curriculum that teaches not only practical skills needed to work in healthcare, but how to protect patient data and operations.  The program has included several experienced healthcare CISOs as contributing staff lending real world expertise to what they are building.  These are the type of visionary programs we need more of if we are going to close this gap in cybersecurity skills.

Mac McMillan is president and CEO of the Austin, Texas-based CynergisTek consulting firm.

 


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Assessing the New Cybersecurity Practices Publication: Why Small and Medium-Sized Care Organizations Have Reason to Rejoice

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A new set of voluntary cybersecurity practices just released by HHS offers practical advice and conceptual supports that fill information gaps
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How helpful will the new set of voluntary cybersecurity practices that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released in late December, be, to the leaders of patient care organizations? Only time will tell, as part of the value of the release will only be made manifest as the leaders of patient care organizations move forward to implement some of those practices, and the potential success of such implementations is in some way measured and benchmarked.

But the release is a first start, at least. As Healthcare Informatics Associate Editor Heather Landi reported on January 2, HHS released the set of practices in the form of a publication “that marks the culmination of a two-year effort that brought together over 150 cybersecurity and healthcare experts from industry and the government under the Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) Sector Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Public-Private Partnership.”

“Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of every organization working in healthcare and public health.  In all of our efforts, we must recognize and leverage the value of partnerships among government and industry stakeholders to tackle the shared problems collaboratively,” Janet Vogel, HHS Acting Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), said in a statement published with the release of the new publication.

Health Industry Cybersecurity Practices: Managing Threats and Protecting Patients (HICP), the primary publication of the Cybersecurity Act of 2015, Section 405(d) Task Group, aims to raise awareness, provide vetted cybersecurity practices, and move organizations towards consistency in mitigating the current most pertinent cybersecurity threats to the sector,” HHS officials stated. “It seeks to aid healthcare and public health organizations to develop meaningful cybersecurity objectives and outcomes. The publication includes a main document, two technical volumes, and resources and templates.”

The overall publication consists of several sections, the first being the HICP, which “examines cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities that affect the healthcare industry. It explores five current threats and presents 10 practices to mitigate those threats; “Technical Volume 1: Cybersecurity Practices for Small Health Care Organizations,” which offers cybersecurity practices for small healthcare organizations; “Technical Volume 2: Cybersecurity Practices for Medium and Large Health Care Organizations”; the “Resources and Templates” portion, which “includes a variety of cybersecurity resources and templates for end users to reference”; and a Cybersecurity Practices Assessments Toolkit, which “helps organizations prioritize their cyber threats and develop their own action plans using the assessment methodology outlined in the Resources and Templates volume”—that last section being still under development as of Jan. 2.

As Landi reported, “The HICP publication aims to provide cybersecurity practices for this vast, diverse, and open sector to ultimately improve the security and safety of patients. The main document of the publication explores the five most relevant and current threats to the industry. It also recommends 10 cybersecurity practices to help mitigate these threats.”

What’s more, she wrote, “The main document presents real-life events and statistics that demonstrate the financial and patient care impacts of cyber incidents.  It also lays out a call to action for all industry stakeholders, from C-suite executives and healthcare practitioners to IT security professionals, that protective and preventive measures must be taken now. The publication also includes two technical volumes geared for IT and IT security professionals, one focusing on cybersecurity practices for small healthcare organizations, and one focused on practices for medium and large healthcare organizations.”

Among the salient statistics reported in the HICP:

  • Fifty-eight percent of malware attack victims are small businesses.
  • In 2017, cyber-attacks cost small and medium-sized businesses an average of $2.2 million.
  • Sixty of small businesses go out of business within six months of an attack.
  • And, 90 percent of small businesses do not use any data protection at all for company and customer information.

How does that translate into impacts on smaller healthcare organizations? Among other incidents, the HICP notes that:

  • A popular orthopedic practice announced that its computer system was hacked via breach of a software vendor’s log-in credentials. This breach put just under a half-million people at risk of identity theft. Of those, 500 patient profiles appeared for sale on the dark web. The information for sale included names, addresses, social security numbers, and other personally identifiable information (PII). Although not posted for sale, pertinent PHI such as X-ray results and medical diagnoses were also stolen.

 

  • A rural hospital had to replace its entire computer network after a ransomware cyber-attack froze the hospital’s electronic health record (EHR) system. Doctors were unable to review their patients’ medical histories or transmit laboratory and pharmacy orders. Officials were unable to restore essential services and could not pay the ransom for the return of their system. After consultations with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and cybersecurity experts, hospital officials made the difficult decision to replace the entire system.
  •  

Of particular practicality is some of the very basic advice given to the leaders of smaller healthcare organizations. To wit: “Doctors and nurses know that hand sanitizing is critical to prevent the spread of germs. That does not mean health care workers wash up as often as they should. Similarly, we know that cybersecurity practices reduce the risk of cyber-attacks and data breaches. Just as we are able to protect our patients from infection, we should all work towards protecting patient data to allow physicians and caregivers to trust the data and systems that enable quality health care. Just as health care professionals must wash their hands before caring for patients, health care organizations must practice good ‘cyber hygiene’ in today’s digital world, including it as a part of daily universal precautions,” the HICP notes. “Like the simple act of hand-washing, a culture of cyber-awareness does not have to be complicated or expensive for a small organization. It must simply be effective at enabling organization members to protect information that is critical to the organization’s patients and operations. Your organization’s vigilance against cyber-attacks will increase concurrently with your and your workforce’s knowledge of cybersecurity. This knowledge will enable you to advance to the next series of cybersecurity Practices, expanding your organization’s awareness of and ability to thwart cyber threats.”

Meanwhile, both smaller and larger patient care organizations will benefit from the technical supports, including a Security Risk Assessment Tool, a set of recommendations on medical devices and cybersecurity, and an incident response risk management handbook.

What this set of resources does is to fill a gap between theory and technical practice in a key area. Will it shift the entire landscape of cybersecurity for patient care organizations? No, that would be a far-too-ambitious goal. But the healthcare IT leaders of smaller and medium-sized patient care organizations in particular, will welcome practice advice and supports, as they move forward in their journeys around cybersecurity. Any such journey is inherently challenging, and federal publications and resources like these will be of real value in moving patient care organization HIT leaders forward.

 

 

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HHS Releases Voluntary Healthcare Cybersecurity Practices

January 2, 2019
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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In late December, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released voluntary cybersecurity practices to the healthcare industry with the aim of providing practice guidelines to cost-effectively reduce cybersecurity risks.

The “Health Industry Cybersecurity Practices (HICP): Managing Threats and Protecting Patients” publication aims to provide guidance to healthcare organizations of all types and sizes, ranging from local clinics to large hospital systems.

The industry-led effort was in response to a mandate set forth by the Cybersecurity Act of 2015 Section 405(d), to develop practical cybersecurity guidelines to cost-effectively reduce cybersecurity risks for the healthcare industry.

According to HHS, the publication marks the culmination of a two-year effort that brought together over 150 cybersecurity and healthcare experts from industry and the government under the Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) Sector Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Public-Private Partnership.

“Cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of every organization working in healthcare and public health.  In all of our efforts, we must recognize and leverage the value of partnerships among government and industry stakeholders to tackle the shared problems collaboratively,” Janet Vogel, HHS Acting Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), said in a statement.

While technologies are vital to the healthcare industry and help provide life-saving treatments and improve patient care, these same technologies are vulnerable to myriad attacks from adversaries, ranging from criminals and hacktivists to nation-states, according to HHS. These technologies can be exploited to gain access to personal patient data or render entire hospital systems inoperable. Recent cyber-attacks against the nation’s healthcare industry continue to highlight the importance of ensuring these technologies are safe and secure.

“The healthcare industry is truly a varied digital ecosystem. We heard loud and clear through this process that providers need actionable and practical advice, tailored to their needs, to manage modern cyber threats. That is exactly what this resource delivers; recommendations stratified by the size of the organization, written for both the clinician as well as the IT subject matter expert,” Erik Decker, industry co-lead and Chief Information Security and Privacy Officer for the University of Chicago Medicine, said in a statement.

The HICP publication aims to provide cybersecurity practices for this vast, diverse, and open sector to ultimately improve the security and safety of patients. The main document of the publication explores the five most relevant and current threats to the industry. It also recommends 10 cybersecurity practices to help mitigate these threats.

The main document presents real-life events and statistics that demonstrate the financial and patient care impacts of cyber incidents.  It also lays out a call to action for all industry stakeholders, from C-suite executives and healthcare practitioners to IT security professionals, that protective and preventive measures must be taken now. The publication also includes two technical volumes geared for IT and IT security professionals, one focusing on cybersecurity practices for small healthcare organizations, and one focused on practices for medium and large healthcare organizations.

 

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CynergisTek, Protenus Partner on Privacy Monitoring Programs

December 26, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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CynergisTek, Inc., an Austin, Texas-based healthcare cybersecurity firm, is partnering with Protenus, a healthcare compliance analytics company, to combine the companies’ technology tools and services with a focus on patient privacy monitoring programs.

The partnership will grant health systems access to Protenus’ analytics platform that leverages artificial intelligence to gather data related to potential patient privacy risks, along with CynergisTek’s patient privacy monitoring services.

According to the Protenus research, insider incidents accounted for 23 percent of all breaches that occurred at health systems in Q3 2018. This figure will only continue increasing, indicating that now more than ever, health systems need a cost-effective solution to meet the daily challenges of managing patient privacy.

To address this need, CynergisTek and Protenus formed a preferred partnership to combine CynergisTek’s healthcare consulting experience and privacy programs with Protenus’ healthcare analytics technology to offer health systems both the people, processes, and technology components of a strong patient privacy monitoring program, according to the companies.

“As health systems face mounting challenges in creating and maintaining robust patient privacy monitoring programs, we identified a need to partner with a company offering complementary services so that health systems can act on the insights uncovered by our analytics,” Nick Culbertson, CEO and co-founder of Protenus, said in a statement.

 “Data privacy is evolving as a dominate theme in conversations, both in healthcare and other industries, and health systems need to take an end-to-end approach to patient privacy to truly address this complex and mission-critical challenge,” Mac McMillan, CEO and president of CynergisTek, said in a statement.

 

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