Improving data protection with healthcare big data programs


Healthcare organizations are looking to tap into the wealth of patient data being made available as providers switch to electronic health records. With insights pulled from clinical records and other sources, it may be possible to discover new cures, unlock system-wide efficiencies and prescribe more effective treatments. As organizations collect data to use for their analytics programs, however, they are set to encounter new storage and security challenges. Working with a managed services provider, healthcare IT groups can institute appropriate data protection and storage management measures.


“As the data center and IT infrastructure become more integral to a healthcare organization, the amount of data to manage will increase as well,” Health IT Security contributor and cloud computing expert Bill Kleyman wrote in a recent Health IT Security post. “Executives, managers and infrastructure administrators must gain control of their data quickly. There are key benefits in being able to quantify and control your data points. Not only will you be able to correlate large amounts of information – you will be able to learn so much more about your customer base and how to better serve them.”


Kleyman explained that the first step in handling big data in the healthcare environment is recognizing the extent to which a management challenge exists. He noted that the average person in many healthcare organizations may be using three to five devices to access the data centre, creating large volumes of new data and introducing an endpoint protection challenge. And this data is particularly tempting to attackers, Kyle Murphy, PhD, wrote in a separate Health IT Security column.


“BYOD, medical device integration, and the rise of mobile health (mHealth) mean that more data are being created and accessed than ever before,” he explained. “These increasing points of access also represent additional points of opportunity for data breaches. Add to this the value of behavioral data, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.”


Guarding the healthcare data centre

Organizations will want to use data protection tools, physical and virtual security controls and ongoing monitoring to secure their data, Kleyman wrote. Next-generation security advances such as data loss prevention (DLP) systems and intrusion prevention services (IPS/IDS) can catch attacks and reduce the likelihood of data theft. Even more familiar controls such as virtual scanning, database firewalls and load balancing mechanisms can be helpful in catching and blocking unwanted behaviour.


Physical data centre security is also a concern, as in-person breaches are a major threat in healthcare. Given the large number of people who come in and out of hospitals, securing servers kept on-premise may be particularly challenging. Similarly, physical device security is important, as lost laptops and hard drives have been at the centre of many recent healthcare data breaches. Working with a managed services provider that has a highly secure data centre infrastructure and that can help implement endpoint security controls such as file encryption can be helpful in ensuring physical security needs are met.


Additionally, ongoing monitoring of both the software and hardware layers is important, Kleyman noted. Not only does an infrastructure monitoring platform help catch aberrant behaviour that may signal an attack, it can enable a provider to optimize network connections and eliminate bandwidth issues. By enlisting a third-party service to help with enterprise systems management, healthcare organizations can ensure they have trained data protection and network specialists monitoring their environment and providing ongoing security for their big data initiative.