The healthcare IT ecosystem has become increasingly complex over the last decade. Connected medical devices, Electronic Health Records (EHRs), quality measurement systems and other innovations have transformed the way patient care is delivered, how outcomes are measured and monitored, and how patients connect with healthcare providers.

But with greater connection and complexity come greater risk and responsibility. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations have to comply with strict rules under HIPAA in the U.S. and GDPR in Europe and other regulations that protect private medical records and other patient information, such as financial data.

Growing cybersecurity concerns

They also must be able to address growing cybersecurity concerns that could put hospital networks, data or even patient safety at risk. One of the most critical steps that healthcare organizations can take to protect patients, data and assets is controlling who has access to critical systems and devices.

  • User authentication is the ability to correctly identify an individual user and match their information to the devices or systems they are using.
  • Access control is the ability to ensure that only authorized users are able to gain access to an asset or system.

Hygienic contactless access

User authentication and access control solutions help healthcare organizations protect patient safety

User authentication and access control solutions help healthcare organizations protect patient safety, comply with data privacy regulations, reduce loss and theft, and monitor productivity and healthcare quality metrics.

For many applications, the simplest solution starts with something most healthcare workers already carry: an ID badge equipped with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. RFID-enabled systems can help healthcare organizations improve security and enable tracking for a broad range of devices and software systems. They are easier to manage and more secure than password and PIN systems and allow fast and hygienic contactless access to medical equipment, supplies and records.

User authentication and access control

RFID systems for user authentication and access control can be used across a variety of systems and devices in a healthcare setting. SSO systems allow a user to sign into the hospital network and access all of the software systems and records they are authorized to use and view. An RFID reader can be attached to, or embedded in, each workstation and mobile cart to enable fast and easy sign-on with an employee ID badge.

The reader confirms the user's identify for the SSO software, which controls access to all of the systems on the hospital network. Presenting a badge is faster than signing in to a workstation with a username and password and provides a record of who is logging into each workstation and what systems they are accessing.

Protecting patient privacy and control access

This is a real benefit in a healthcare setting in which workstations may be shared at a busy nursing station or placed on mobile carts for patient check-in and bedside point-of-care. It allows many users to securely share the same workstations, while ensuring that each one has access to the systems and information they need—and nothing they are not authorized to view. HIPAA and GDPR require healthcare providers to protect patient privacy and control access to sensitive medical records.

This helps organizations comply with privacy regulations and track who is accessing

Now that most of this information is stored in electronic form, providers need ways to control who is allowed to view or change information in the patient's EHR. RFID readers attached to computer systems can be used to verify the user's identity when they access the EHR software. This helps organizations comply with privacy regulations and track who is accessing and changing patient information.

Diagnostic and monitoring devices

The medical device world includes a broad range of therapeutic, diagnostic and monitoring devices, from infusion pumps to mobile X-Ray machines. Most of these devices require specialized knowledge to operate. Some can cause harm to patients if they are misused, turned on or off at the wrong time, or have the wrong settings.

Increasingly, these medical devices are also connected to each other or to hospital networks, creating new cybersecurity concerns. The FDA has issued cybersecurity guidance that requires medical device developers to have systems in place to limit the ability of unauthorized people to access device data or change settings. Integrating RFID readers into medical devices is an easy way to control physical access and track who is changing device settings and when.

RFID-Enabled user authentication

At the same time, hospitals need to have systems in place to curb excess use

An RFID-enabled user authentication and access control system prevents accidental or deliberate harm to patients that may result when untrained people or malicious actors change system settings. Tracking supplies, medications and controlled substances is a critical concern for hospitals and other healthcare providers.

Nurses and other healthcare workers need fast access to supplies and medications to provide effective patient care. At the same time, hospitals need to have systems in place to curb excess use and prevent theft of expensive materials or controlled substances such as opioid medications. They also need to make sure the right patient gets the right medications and track material use by patient for accurate accounting and billing.

Tracking healthcare workers

RFID readers integrated into supply carts and cabinets prevent theft and encourage responsible use by controlling access to valuable materials or drugs and monitoring who is using supplies. Electronic kiosks and room display systems can be used to check patients into rooms and record who is checking on them and how often.

In a hospital or nursing home setting, they can replace whiteboards often used to track which healthcare workers are on duty and exchange information with healthcare workers on other shifts. With an RFID system, nurses and aides can simply flash their badge to check in to the room and record their patient visit. This makes it easier to track patient care metrics and maintain continuity between providers across shifts.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

In case you missed it

Water Plant Attack Emphasizes Cyber’s Impact On Physical Security
Water Plant Attack Emphasizes Cyber’s Impact On Physical Security

At an Oldsmar, Fla., water treatment facility on Feb. 5, an operator watched a computer screen as someone remotely accessed the system monitoring the water supply and increased the amount of sodium hydroxide from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million. The chemical, also known as lye, is used in small concentrations to control acidity in the water. In larger concentrations, the compound is poisonous – the same corrosive chemical used to eat away at clogged drains. The impact of cybersecurity attacks The incident is the latest example of how cybersecurity attacks can translate into real-world, physical security consequences – even deadly ones.Cybersecurity attacks on small municipal water systems have been a concern among security professionals for years. The computer system was set up to allow remote access only to authorized users. The source of the unauthorized access is unknown. However, the attacker was only in the system for 3 to 5 minutes, and an operator corrected the concentration back to 100 parts per million soon after. It would have taken a day or more for contaminated water to enter the system. In the end, the city’s water supply was not affected. There were other safeguards in place that would have prevented contaminated water from entering the city’s water supply, which serves around 15,000 residents. The remote access used for the attack was disabled pending an investigation by the FBI, Secret Service and Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. On Feb. 2, a compilation of breached usernames and passwords, known as COMB for “Compilation of Many Breaches,” was leaked online. COMB contains 3.2 billion unique email/password pairs. It was later discovered that the breach included the credentials for the Oldsmar water plant. Water plant attacks feared for years Cybersecurity attacks on small municipal water systems have been a concern among security professionals for years. Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that the attempt to poison the water supply should be treated as a “matter of national security.” “The incident at the Oldsmar water treatment plant is a reminder that our nation’s critical infrastructure is continually at risk; not only from nation-state attackers, but also from malicious actors with unknown motives and goals,” comments Mieng Lim, VP of Product Management at Digital Defense Inc., a provider of vulnerability management and threat assessment solutions.The attack on Oldsmar’s water treatment system shows how critical national infrastructure is increasingly becoming a target for hackers as organizations bring systems online “Our dependency on critical infrastructure – power grids, utilities, water supplies, communications, financial services, emergency services, etc. – on a daily basis emphasizes the need to ensure the systems are defended against any adversary,” Mieng Lim adds. “Proactive security measures are crucial to safeguard critical infrastructure systems when perimeter defenses have been compromised or circumvented. We have to get back to the basics – re-evaluate and rebuild security protections from the ground up.” "This event reinforces the increasing need to authenticate not only users, but the devices and machine identities that are authorized to connect to an organization's network,” adds Chris Hickman, Chief Security Officer at digital identity security vendor Keyfactor. “If your only line of protection is user authentication, it will be compromised. It's not necessarily about who connects to the system, but what that user can access once they're inside. "If the network could have authenticated the validity of the device connecting to the network, the connection would have failed because hackers rarely have possession of authorized devices. This and other cases of hijacked user credentials can be limited or mitigated if devices are issued strong, crypto-derived, unique credentials like a digital certificate. In this case, it looks like the network had trust in the user credential but not in the validity of the device itself. Unfortunately, this kind of scenario is what can happen when zero trust is your end state, not your beginning point." “The attack on Oldsmar’s water treatment system shows how critical national infrastructure is increasingly becoming a target for hackers as organizations bring systems online for the first time as part of digital transformation projects,” says Gareth Williams, Vice President - Secure Communications & Information Systems, Thales UK. “While the move towards greater automation and connected switches and control systems brings unprecedented opportunities, it is not without risk, as anything that is brought online immediately becomes a target to be hacked.” Operational technology to mitigate attacks Williams advises organizations to approach Operational Technology as its own entity and put in place procedures that mitigate against the impact of an attack that could ultimately cost lives. This means understanding what is connected, who has access to it and what else might be at risk should that system be compromised, he says. “Once that is established, they can secure access through protocols like access management and fail-safe systems.”  “The cyberattack against the water supply in Oldsmar should come as a wakeup call,” says Saryu Nayyar, CEO, Gurucul.  “Cybersecurity professionals have been talking about infrastructure vulnerabilities for years, detailing the potential for attacks like this, and this is a near perfect example of what we have been warning about,” she says.  Although this attack was not successful, there is little doubt a skilled attacker could execute a similar infrastructure attack with more destructive results, says Nayyar. Organizations tasked with operating and protecting critical public infrastructure must assume the worst and take more serious measures to protect their environments, she advises. Fortunately, there were backup systems in place in Oldsmar. What could have been a tragedy instead became a cautionary tale. Both physical security and cybersecurity professionals should pay attention.

What Are The Positive And Negative Effects Of COVID-19 To Security?
What Are The Positive And Negative Effects Of COVID-19 To Security?

The COVID-19 global pandemic had a life-changing impact on all of us in 2020, including a multi-faceted jolt on the physical security industry. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see more clearly the exact nature and extent of that impact. And it’s not over yet: The pandemic will continue to be top-of-mind in 2021. We asked this week’s Expert Panel Roundtable: What have been the positive and negative effects of Covid-19 on the physical security industry in 2020? What impact will it have on 2021?

Expert Roundup: Healthy Buildings, Blockchain, AI, Skilled Workers, And More
Expert Roundup: Healthy Buildings, Blockchain, AI, Skilled Workers, And More

Our Expert Panel Roundtable is an opinionated group. However, for a variety of reasons, we are sometimes guilty of not publishing their musings in a timely manner. At the end of 2020, we came across several interesting comments among those that were previously unpublished. Following is a catch-all collection of those responses, addressing some of the most current and important issues in the security marketplace in 2021.