Wi-Fi networks remain the biggest threat to hospital cybersecurity

A connected hospital is a vulnerable hospital. Over half of internet-connected hospital medical devices have a critical security vulnerability that risks patient safety, data confidentiality, and service availability.

This revelation comes from the healthcare cybersecurity firm Cynerio. Cynerio examined data from over 10 million connected health devices used at over 300 hospitals and healthcare facilities. It found that 53% of connected devices had critical risks. 

Right now, the most vulnerable devices are the critical ones that directly impact patient health. 73% of IV pumps had critical vulnerabilities – a staggering number, especially when considering that these devices represent 38% of a typical hospital’s IT footprint. Other vulnerable devices include, but aren’t limited to, ultrasound machines, patient monitors, and medication dispensers.

The latest Healthcare Data Breach Trend Report confirms these findings. It names IoT-connected medical devices as a top healthcare cybersecurity threat.

Of course, there are other threats to deal with. These include the usual concerns around healthcare data breaches, employee awareness, interoperability, poorly equipped IT departments, and outdated legacy technologies.

However, the influx of internet-connected medical devices presents unprecedented new risks. More devices with more connections translate into an increased potential attack surface.

Healthcare cyberattacks are on the rise. One year saw 82% of healthcare organizations experience an IoT-focused attack. And 30% of those attacks compromised the end-user’s safety.

The US Department of Health and Human Services reported over 500 healthcare security breaches in 2021 along with a 123% increase in ransomware attacks.

Internet-connected devices are already responsible for the same percentage of healthcare breaches as phishing. And IoT-targeted healthcare cyberattacks are expected to increase.

This is dire. A hacker gaining access to Wi-Fi networks and IoT medical devices can infiltrate the entire system, steal data, or enact a killware attack. A killware attack occurs when hackers take control of and manipulate technology.

The potential consequences are grave. A hacker entering the system through a vulnerable device can shut down systems, lock providers out, alter medications, interfere with patient monitoring, and take a host of other nefarious actions.

Your patients’ privacy, health, and lives are put at risk should any of these be taken down, tampered with, or manipulated. Once again, healthcare organizations have to make new steps to protect their patient’s health, well-being, and privacy.

Healthcare IoT device security has already been singled out for concern by NIST – the National Institute of Standards and Technology. And a recent report lists network security as an area that needs work.

Much has been said about the need to enact multi-factor authorization, implement new organizational policies, keep devices updated, and take other security measures.

But the weakest link in any hospital’s network is the network connection itself.

Wi-Fi is a legacy networking technology

Healthcare organizations that connect IoT devices through a Wi-Fi system are inherently insecure. This networking technology wasn’t developed with the Internet of Things in mind.

Using IoT devices multiplies the number of attack vectors and access points that cybercriminals can target. That’s incredibly dangerous on Wi-Fi, which is far too open and available to be secure.

Hackers can use Wi-Fi to see what networks and devices are available. Edward L. Goings, a cybersecurity expert at KPMG Global, notes that healthcare connected devices are engineered for efficacy rather than security.

High numbers of devices are connecting to hospital networks via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and are often doing so through dated operating systems. It’s a security nightmare waiting to happen.

There are ways to make these connections more secure, but the bottom line is that Wi-Fi was never intended for and isn’t an ideal technology for connecting IoT medical devices.

Securing Internet-Connected Healthcare Organizations with Private LTE/5G Networks

The internet network itself has largely been left out of the conversation around digitalizing, modernizing, and transforming healthcare. But we can’t run a connected healthcare system on old, nearing-obsolete networking technologies.

KPMG Advisory recommends that their clients shift to thinking in terms of smart healthcare ecosystems. These consist of healthcare solutions and IoT devices connected through private LTE/5G networks. This creates an inherently secure ecosystem.

Furthermore, private LTE/5G networks offer much more advanced networking capabilities than Wi-Fi that can properly support healthcare organizations with a growing number of densely connected medical IoT devices.

A Brief Introduction to Private LTE/5G Internet Networks

Private networks are also called non-public networks or NPNs. They are built completely separate from public internet or mobility systems – including having their own infrastructure and equipment. Organizations own, run, and control these networks themselves. 

These networks are ideal for organizations with security concerns and represent a safe way to access advanced speeds and facilitate connectivity. They’re closed only accessible to authorized users, can be integrated with enhanced security features, and can be customized to suit an organization’s management needs.

Private LTE/5G networks are built on 4G LTE cellular technology with 5G-ready equipment. These networks are far more advanced, robust, and reliable than Wi-Fi.

LTE/5G offers massive increases in speed and through-put connectivity while being much more cost-effective. One estimate has hospitals spending 30% to 40% less on wireless connectivity by moving from Wi-Fi to LTE.

LTE is deployed over Citizen Broadband Radio Service or CBRS. CBRS can facilitate LTE connections alongside Wi-Fi, in order to extend the coverage without interruption or interference. This makes CBRS-based LTE a scalable and cost-effective technology. Organizations can start with a smaller and more affordable deployment, then expand at their own pace.

LTE represents a significant improvement over Wi-Fi that lays the foundation for 5G upgrades later down the road. It’s the best way to get an organization technologically up-to-speed while futureproofing at the same time. 

How Healthcare Organizations Can Benefit by Switching to a Private Internet Network

Private LTE/5G networks are the best way to create secure and connected healthcare organizations. These networks are secure, high-performing, cost-effective, and scalable.

Private LTE and 5G can support more device connections than Wi-Fi

  • Private LTE networks can support 100,000 simultaneous device connections within a 0.5-mile radius. 
  • Private 5G technology can support 1 million simultaneous device connections within a 0.5-mile radius.

Wi-Fi networks struggle to support a higher number of devices. An increasing number of devices on Wi-Fi means adding in more access points.

A single LTE access point can connect as many devices as four or five Wi-Fi ones. These connections are secure and stable. Hospitals should upgrade their systems for this reason alone.

Low Network Latency

Network latency is the time it takes for data to travel between two points. It’s typically measured in multiples or fractions of a second.

  • 4G LTE has latency ranges of around 30 milliseconds to 70 milliseconds.
  • 5G technology is slashing latency ranges down to 5 milliseconds to 20 milliseconds.

High latency levels are often referred to as lag. And that’s what we don’t want in a healthcare setting. Slow data transmission speed is one of the biggest issues for hospitals that rely on Wi-Fi. 

Healthcare IoT devices are known to generate a large volume of data. Having several devices connecting through a single Wi-Fi network results in high data traffic. This congests the Wi-Fi network and results in high latency.

The transmission speed is further slowed down when medical devices sending information through Wi-Fi generate large hop counts. This happens when device data has an increased number of routers and other devices for data to pass through on its way to and from a cloud solution and/or the end user.

These factors create accruing network, communication, and computation delays which ultimately result in overall data round-trip delays. At worst, these delays can make healthcare data incorrect and render the solutions unusable.

Healthcare technology solutions are designed to work in real-time. And providers always need smooth, uninterrupted technology use. This is why lowering your latency should be a top priority.

Low latency times might be a nice-to-have feature for residential consumers, but this can have life-saving or threatening consequences for healthcare.

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations always need to run on the lowest latency technologies that are currently available. You can shorten those times immediately by switching to a private LTE/5G network.

High Speed

Hospitals can access gigabit network speeds now by switching to private carrier-level wireless healthcare infrastructure.

Private networks beat out Wi-Fi and publicly available LTE networks by far. They also provide speeds higher than publicly available LTE networks. The average private network delivers gigabit data transmission speeds.

  • Private LTE networks are delivering speeds of up to 2 Gbps.
  • Private 5G networks are set to deliver up to 10 Gbps (using advanced high-band or mmWave technologies).

A growing trend sees enterprises building their own private networks to avoid waiting on public infrastructure development timelines. Hospitals and providers that have implemented healthcare technology have to start seeing themselves as data-driven organizations. But in healthcare, data represents far more than a strategic asset. If data use is as critical to patient health as accurate medication or equipment readings, you always have to get the highest speeds available.

Reliable, Secure Carrier-Grade Private Network Infrastructure

Private 5G/LTE networks are inherently secure due to their closed nature. Organizations that implement them can achieve secure connected tech ecosystems that facilitate modern healthcare.

Patients deserve access to the best healthcare they can. And they must have their safety, security, and privacy looked after. Hospitals and other healthcare organizations can give them that while remaining cost-efficient with private LTE or 5G networks. An experienced enterprise telecommunications provider – like PCS Technologies – can deploy carrier-grade private broadband with enhanced built-in security measures.

PCS Technologies specializes in network connectivity solutions for private and public communities, enterprises, and industries.

Contact PCS Technologies for information on the latest healthcare options. You can message us or call us at 1-800-659-2170.

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