Managing Healthcare Cyber Risks with Zero Trust Security

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No sector seems to be immune as Cyberattacks continue to proliferate. Healthcare and retail verticals have been the focus area for hackers during the pandemic period. 

While hospitals have been burdened with the onslaught of patients and research labs racing to develop vaccines for Covid19, they have become soft targets for cyberattacks. To ensure business continuity, they were even willing to pay vast ransoms as the stakes are high. 

According to Forrester, “Healthcare provider organizations (HPOs) can no longer rely on their legacy security controls to prevent threat actors from stealing or ransoming patient data. A healthcare ecosystem of remote caregiving and thinly-defended medical IoT devices requires a cyber risk management strategy based on the Zero Trust security model. 

As applications and workloads are aggressively moving to cloud with users accessing them remotely, the network is no more a secured enterprise network, instead has become an unsecured internet.  

The visibility solutions and network perimeter security employed by businesses to keep attackers out of the scene is no longer robust or practical enough. 

According to Mark Nicholson, a principal and a cyber risk services leader at Deloitte, “Not a specific architecture, zero trust is an approach to security that has evolved in response to the changing nature of networks. Twenty years ago, we hardened the exterior of the network with layers of defenses and believed we could trust everyone and every device on the inside. Now, data and assets have left the premises. It can be ambiguous where the organization’s domain ends, and the public domain begins. This is why clearly defined access control policies based on user, device and service profiles are central to any zero-trust strategy.”  

Zero Trust Model in Healthcare can keep pace with the threat landscape 

While the healthcare data is valuable and critical for patient’s treatment, it has and will be a primary target for cyberattacks. Given the health sector’s challenges such as limited resources and staffing gaps, the need for zero trust will be crucial moving forward. 

Ideally zero trust infrastructure can remediate issues related to authentication, authorization, credential theft, and a heavy reliance on virtual private networks (VPNs). But with limited resources and staffing, how feasible would a zero trust model be on the healthcare sector. 

Zero trust was designed in response to business trends where cloud-based assets and remote users are not located directly within the enterprise network. 

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)A zero trust architecture (ZTA) uses zero trust principles to plan enterprise infrastructure and workflows. Zero trust assumes there is no implicit trust granted to assets or user accounts based solely on their physical or network location (i.e., local area networks versus the internet).”  

Authentication and authorization (both user and device) are discrete functions performed before a session for an enterprise resource to be establishedZero trust focuses on protecting resources, not network segments, as the network location is no longer seen as the prime component to the security posture of the resource. 

Taking a Zero Trust approach to Security: 

In the event of breach, apart from patient’s data, the healthcare organizations also stand to lose sensitive and privacy data such as medical device or serial numbers, social security numbers, medical history, images that have unique identifying characteristics, biometric data, and X-rays & diagnostic images. 

Assuming all communication within the network is authorized and safe, most healthcare organizations have traditional cyber security systems which rely on protecting the perimeter using firewalls. This assumption is taken advantage of by threat actors who use sophisticated attack vectors like malware, phishing, ransomware, and zero-day attacks to enter the network. 

Based on the premise that no connection is trusted unless it has been explicitly allowed, the implementation of zero trust security architecture could be the most reliable course of action to defend against internal and external threats. 

Zero trust security can be implemented using micro-segmentation defined by software. This will enable organizations complete visibility of all network traffic across hybrid-cloud and other environments. Essentially healthcare organizations can drive down intent-based security policies to host level by segmenting individual workloads, applications, and users. 

This approach will allow specific access based on the security policies of the organization to every single application or person connected in the network. Any attempt to access unauthorized data by hackers will be flagged and prevented.  

Benefits of Zero trust in healthcare: 

The benefits of Zero trust go beyond security. It helps you build strength and resilience throughout your organization. Some of the core benefits of zero trust are as follows. 

  • Gain Greater Visibility Across the Enterprise 
  • Simplify IT Management 
  • Optimize for Existing Security Staff 
  • Improve Data Protection 
  • Secure Your Remote Workforce 
  • Streamline User Access 
  • Continuous Compliance 


Sensitive patient data will be at risk unless the healthcare industry is willing to take preventive steps at the inherent vulnerabilities of traditional network security systems. 

Cigniti offers software testing solutions for diverse life science and healthcare players such as hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, diagnostic centers, clinical labs, third-party administrators (TPA), medical device manufacturers, healthcare ISVs, and research organizations.  With a strong emphasis on regulations, compliance, and more, Cigniti provides end-to-end Advisory & Transformation services, Test Automation, and Performance, Functional, & Security Testing solutions. 

Cigniti has a Healthcare and Life Sciences Software Testing Center of Excellence (TCoE) and a specific Hospital Application Test Approach that helps our clients gain immense business value in Healthcare and Life Sciences  software testing, automation, mobile applications testing, Connected Health IoT, and Regulatory Testing. 

Need help? Talk to our healthcare test experts to build the right security strategy for your organization.