Digitalization is Everywhere, So Why isn't Healthcare Keeping Up?

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The NHS Long-Term Plan, released in 2019, aimed to better use of data and digital technology in the UK healthcare sector. Today, the pandemic has forced the Long-Term Plan to accelerate much faster than the NHS could have imagined. This has led to a perhaps understandable adoption of nascent technologies supported by an architecture that is not ideally suited for the long-term. What is needed to ensure long-term stability is a security architecture that has the flexibility to balance and manage risk, give greater visibility into the dynamics of the new digital footprint and the ability to respond to risk in real-time. If half-measures or approaches are chosen that don’t satisfy these criteria, there is the potential for unnecessary exposure to risk. This is exacerbated by the fact that, as the rate of digital transformation continues to increase, it is compounded by the threat landscape accelerating at an unprecedented pace alongside it. Fortunately, a SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) security architecture approach can provide a scalable solution that will help address these issues.

Assessing risk for a network of devices handling highly-sensitive data is complicated because medical environments are dynamic. Risk posture constantly changes as users, devices and applications connect and disconnect. To balance and manage risk, organizations must first understand their digital footprint and how applications, services and users interact and operate. Reliable visibility into and monitoring of these interactions make it possible to identify vulnerabilities and potential attack vectors. Furthermore, healthcare data is valuable, as it often contains an individual’s entire personally identifiable information. Additionally, unlike bank details that can be changed or recreated, much of an individual’s personal health details are immutable. Furthermore, ransomware threatens both the sensitive personal information, as outlined by the GDPR, of the individual and the ability for the system to operate, and healthcare providers need to be proactive in mitigating these threats. 

"Current approaches struggle to cope as past architectures have frequently been rigid, complex, and involved many operational tuning to keep things running smoothly"

Current approaches struggle to cope as past architectures have frequently been rigid, complex, and involved many operational tuning to keep things running smoothly. Traditionally, network security has lived at the network edge within corporate walls and in the data center, with all traffic needing to be routed through it for inspection. A SASE architecture moves most of these capabilities to the cloud, where many applications already reside, reducing the distance between the user and application and – in some instances – eliminating backhaul requirements. In addition, with the bulk of SASE security services generally connecting tightly via APIs that are always up to date and tuned, much of the operational tuning fades away, allowing the organization to focus on managing the risk and its business once more.

To successfully implement this structure and ensure that these new technologies are appropriately protected, the NHS and healthcare providers need to thoroughly understand the highly dynamic and elastic demands of cloud security. The alternative has the potential to complicate the successful adoption of a SASE model. To overcome this challenge, institutions need to take advantage of AI-driven automation and other cutting-edge networking technologies to properly integrate network and security elements into a single platform that can support the rapid growth of digital health services and can be easily deployed and managed updated. By taking these steps now, the NHS will build a platform to enable further technological innovations that will offer better health services to patients and better tools for healthcare professionals.

Security depends on seeing a threat and knowing what it intends to do (and conversely what permitted users and technology are allowed to do.) The risks lay in the number of connected devices, mobile computers and other technologies standard throughout healthcare environments today. Through leveraging SASE and integrated network telemetry insights, digital risks – including service continuity, application threats and anomalous activities – can be monitored, and therefore the risk can be managed.

So, through the adoption of a SASE architecture, healthcare providers can gain better visibility into the application and device-heavy environment while also employing a solution that can scale with the increased rate of digitalization. If the healthcare industry is to continue its rapid digitalization, it must use a fit-for-purpose solution. If it doesn’t, it could expose millions to security risks that could jeopardize the progression that has been achieved up to this point and miss the huge potential for significant improvements in future patient care, outcomes and experiences.

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