WLAN Security Challenges that Healthcare Organizations Need to Overcome

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The healthcare industry is evolving rapidly. Doctors, nurses, and hospital staff need the most up-to-date information and technology at their fingertips at a moment’s notice.

While technological advances improve efficiency, patient care, and overall experience, they also bring new challenges in terms of network and WLAN security. Wireless local area networks (WLAN) are increasingly operating web-facing applications and supporting critical functions required by both new technology and user demand. This makes the wireless network a high impact target for cybercriminals, as a breach of one connected device could compromise the entire network.

As security and IT teams aim to secure the network without hindering connection and speed, here are some of the challenges they will need to consider.

Increased Number of Devices Through IoMT and BYOD
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) has made it possible for doctors and patients to collaborate and adjust healthcare plans in real-time based on data collected by connected devices. It is estimated that there are 3.7 million IoMT devices in use today, with that number growing daily.

Additionally, bring your own device (BYOD) policies are becoming more popular, with 51 percent of healthcare organizations implementing a BYOD policy. This means that staff, patients, and guests are requesting access to your network using multiple devices, each with varying degrees of security installed. The high volume of endpoints accessing the network creates a wider attack surface, while the increase in patient data makes healthcare institutions a more valuable target for cybercriminals.

As connected medical devices and BYOD continue to grow, healthcare providers have to examine their WLAN infrastructure to ensure they can continue to meet bandwidth and critical services demands without compromising security. While firewalls keep many external threats from entering the network, cyberattacks increasingly use IoMT devices and BYOD devices with network authorization to bypass security and access network resources. To combat this, medical IT teams will have to implement security at the access layer to ensure they are mitigating both internal and external threats.

Identity Management
Access control and identity management are critical to WLAN security, but have become complicated by more people and devices attempting to connect to the network. Emphasis has to be placed on ensuring that unauthorized users cannot access confidential information, while those with access are not slowed down.

Centralized authentication and secure single-sign-on solutions that give authorized personnel access to many applications under a single login credential can ensure efficiency for staff, while keeping others out. Healthcare providers may also consider creating a separate guest network to keep patients and guests off the network that houses confidential information altogether.

Compliance
Healthcare providers are bound by strict rules and regulations intended to protect patient privacy and personal information. As such, each device that accesses the network must comply with regulations such as HIPAA. Healthcare IT teams need to implement programs that can enforce compliance on user-owned devices before allowing them to access the network. This can be done with identity management systems, access layer security, and increased visibility into user activity within the network.

Seamless Connection Throughout
One of the greatest challenges healthcare IT teams face in terms of WLAN security is ensuring a secure connection that follows users and devices seamlessly across a large physical area, such as a hospital or medical practice, regardless of urban or rural geographic locations.

Information also needs to change hands quickly and seamlessly, without cumbersome security protocols that will slow staff down or encourage them to circumvent protocol. This requires access points that are integrated with security solutions and infrastructure tools such as firewalls. To be effective in a medical environment, these products must prioritize requests and minimize strain on bandwidth, while also scanning for malware, blocking malicious websites, and protecting against fake IoMT sensors.

Final Thoughts
Today’s healthcare sector faces the difficult dilemma of needing immediate access to the data stored on networked devices to ensure quality care, while simultaneously needing to secure devices they do not own from introducing or spreading sophisticated threats. As these devices connect to the network, WLAN security becomes paramount for protecting data from both internal and external threats.

As more devices connect, identity management, access layer security, HIPAA compliance, and seamless secure wireless connection will be paramount for providing high-quality care that does not compromise patient information.

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