Being in a healthcare organization that is connected to several major University of California organizations, Sriram (Sri) Bharadwaj, chief information security officer (CISO) and director, information services, at UC Irvine Health (Irvine, Calif.), faces unique cybersecurity challenges compared with his CISO colleagues in other pockets of the U.S. But Bharadwaj says that this distinctiveness has led to a transformed cybersecurity culture at UC Irvine Health, one he hopes can be replicated by other patient care organizations.
In early February, Bharadwaj will be part of an expert panel at Healthcare Informatics’ San Diego Health IT Summit where he and his CISO peers will discuss ransomware risks in the wake of the NotPETYA and WannaCry cybersecurity incidents this year. Bharadwaj recently spoke with Healthcare Informatics Managing Editor Rajiv Leventhal about the current cybersecurity landscape, what threats are most concerning to him, and how being connected to other University of California healthcare organizations is making his job somewhat easier. Below are excerpts from that interview.
How do you see the cyber threat landscape right now in your region? Are things getting better?
The cyber threat landscape has definitely changed. When I look at just the UCs (University of California organizations), or any of the hospitals in our vicinity, they have changed purely for two reasons. First, we have started investing in technologies that help address some of the typical threats that we have seen in our environment. Now, have they been mitigated or remediated? I don’t think so; the threats have morphed into something else now that really needs to be addressed. But if you take a technology that you can use to trap issues at the perimeter rather than at the desktop or endpoint level, now your risk or threat mechanism has shifted to the perimeter rather than to your internal environment. That doesn’t mean the risk has gone away, though.
Second, the insider threats have not gone away; they are becoming more sophisticated in that people are allowing insiders to come through by making an error or mistake where they didn’t know that the threat existed. So you need more intelligent tools to actually understand the threat and then take measures to mitigate it.
Without giving up your “secret sauce,” what are some strategies you have deployed to better secure your data?
The biggest strategy we have implemented is a culture of security awareness. That’s the biggest thing we have done for quite some time now. The level of engagement we have from leadership has shifted from “It’s a security issue” to “I need to inform someone so that this doesn’t impact my organization.” That shift has helped us mitigate some of the risks we see at the insider threat level. The second thing we have done is make considerable investments in tools such as FireEye that allow us to take a look at things from a higher level perspective while also allowing us to share with others.
The FireEye deployment was actually done at the UC level, meaning at the UC Office of the President level, so it applies for all of the UC healthcare organizations. That level of engagement with the Office of the President allows us to look at threats and share threats across the UCs rather than with just one single UC at a time. That’s a big benefit for us.
How unique is this sharing process in your region compared with what goes on in other pockets of the country?
Not only is this unique, but we have also started sharing this information with health systems outside of the UCs. So for example, if there is a threat I see, we now have a relationship with all of the hospitals around us to help them make sure something we see won’t hit them. We have our [annual] CIO Forum with other CIOs in the region that allows all of the CIOs [in this area] to collaborate and figure out how to mitigate threats outside of just one single health system. And that allows us to fortify ourselves in a way so that we have a more robust threat protection rather than being in a reactive mode where you are addressing a threat after you have been hit.
The other thing we have done well is engage with the board at the local and regional levels. We have had conversations with CEOs and compliance officers who have had conversations with other hospital CEOs and compliance officers in this area. And that has created a big advantage for us. Facilitating those conversations gets everyone to understand the issues and understand why we are doing X, Y or Z.
Our conversation with the board started with explaining to them our threats and telling them how we’re doing. We do assessments every year through an external third party, and that assessment done at our level is shared among all of the UCs. And the assessment is used to identify areas of improvement across the organization. We also then look at the tools we deploy and how we could become better at improving our scores.
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