Why healthcare organisations need a privileged access management system

The increased use of electronic personal health information (ePHI), coupled with rapid advances in healthcare technology – from cloud-based applications to IoT-enabled devices to telemedicine – has created complex healthcare delivery networks that are target-rich environments for cyber attackers.

Outdated and unsupported software, a massive cyber security skills shortage and more exposed networks have left the healthcare system and their ePHI vulnerable to ransomware and internal threats– both malicious and those resulting from human error. All the while, regulations around ePHI, such as HIPAA HITECH and GDPR, continue to increase while non-compliance is bringing stiffer penalties, particularly with regard to privileged access management.

According to Verizon, 58% of incidents involved insiders—healthcare is the only industry in which internal actors are the biggest threat to an organisation. However, the attack vectors are expansive in healthcare. When it comes to privileged access, all the human points of access must be considered, including people with administrator rights, along with non-human access – including the applications and medical devices that interact with critical systems and enable fundamental processes such as integrating patient diagnostic data from third-party services or seeking reimbursement from a payer organisation.

Managing access to privileged accounts, credentials and secrets is an effective way to mitigate insider threat. Healthcare providers have to control and manage the internal administrators – to ensure they have the right access, at the right time and for the right reasons. Whilst in parallel, controlling privileged access limits the moves an external threat actor can make after they establish a foothold on the network. With privileged access security measures in place, an attacker’s ability to escalate privileges and move laterally to access sensitive systems will be minimised. Proper cyber security hygiene in an environment where the stakes are so high is absolutely critical. This starts with effectively managing privileged access.

The Current Healthcare Environment

Innovation continues to introduce new technologies that improve patient care, but could leave organisations at risk. With ePHI now being dispersed across expansive networks of patient monitoring devices, mobile endpoints for employees and self-service patient web portals, the risk to healthcare providers continues to evolve. Only those organisations that take a holistic approach to securing their environments – including correct privileged access control – will reduce the risk of a catastrophic cyber security incident.


Building “high walls” to protect an organisation’s perimeter is an outdated approach to security. According to the CyberArk Global Advanced Threat Landscape Report 2018, 52 percent of healthcare IT decision-makers cannot prevent attackers from breaking into their networks, and 59 percent believe that customers’ personally identifiable information (PII) could be at risk. Therefore, we challenge organisations to assume that a breach will happen and to implement security tools that prevent an attacker from gaining access to sensitive systems.

 Tightening Regulations and Harsher Penalties

As ransomware and other cyber attacks continue at an alarming rate, IT organisations face an increasingly tight regulatory environment. Strong privileged access security (or the lack thereof) can make or break a healthcare organisation’s ability to demonstrate compliance and avoid financial penalties

Beyond these regulatory penalties, there are significant operational costs to recover from a data breach. A Ponemon study found that a healthcare data breach costs on average USD$380 per record – more than 2.5 times the global average across industries.

To demonstrate compliance with HIPAA HITECH, GDPR and other industry regulations, healthcare providers must have access to documented, auditable proof of their efforts to protect privileged access. Audit trails require a solution that enables comprehensive monitoring, recording and isolation of all privileged user sessions, detailed activity reports on critical ePHI databases and applications, fully searchable audit logs, and complete, multi-layered audit trail data protection.

 Protecting Your Integrated Care Delivery Network Investment

Organisations must manage privileges to proactively protect against, detect and respond to attacks in progress before attackers compromise vital systems and data. But managing privileges does not mean denying them. Instead, it is a matter of controlling who has access to what and why. Managing privileged access is a part of basic cyber security hygiene and can have a huge, positive impact on an organisation’s security posture and compliance efforts.

Because privileged access security complements existing security tools, it helps organisations leverage their existing cyber security investments towards demonstrable improvements. Privileged access security is an essential first step in maturing healthcare cyber security program and must be a priority.

Privileged access security solutions can provide proactive, automated, end-to-end detection and protection for all privileged access to systems containing ePHI. Privileged threat detection and analytics provides the ability to respond and remediate to any anomalous or high-risk activities. Monitoring the behaviour of privileged activity to ensure users are not disabling, circumventing or altering implemented security safeguards and controls is not only a best practice but often required by regulations.

In the age of never ending cyberattacks and tighter regulations, securing the environment is no longer an option but a priority. Beyond the regulatory costs and risk to patient data, breaches can considerably slow down processes, which can become life threatening for patients waiting urgently for operations and whose health data is suddenly held in ransom or wiped from the database. Securing privileged access management needs to be at the forefront of healthcare organisations to be fully compliant and protect patients’ data adequately.

About the Author

David Higgins is the Professional Services Manager at CyberArk for UK and Ireland. He looks after both pre-sales and post-sales support in this region. With over six years’ experience working solely in Privileged Account Security , David has a rich knowledge of the various enterprise requirements and drivers for managing privileged access within a business. David has led some of the largest implementations of privileged identity management projects in the industry; which includes tier-1 financial institutions and companies from the Fortune 100 list.