Operation room in hospital showing internet of medical things (IoMT) in healthcare

Why the Healthcare Industry Needs To Adapt Physical Layer Visibility

In recent years, we have seen an increase in the adaptation of technology in healthcare worldwide, specifically, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT). While bringing significant benefits to the delivery of patient healthcare services and internal operations, healthcare delivery organizations (HDOs) tend to struggle with implementing effective cybersecurity measures. From stagnant bureaucracy to insufficient funding, there are many reasons behind healthcare’s cybersecurity deficiency. However, even with cybersecurity measures in place, their efficacy is limited due to the visibility challenges. If a healthcare entity needs more than 10 seconds to provide, with accuracy, the number of assets in their infrastructure, there is a problem. Layer 1 visibility is quintessential to cybersecurity, providing HDOs with a holistic overview of their asset infrastructure. And, with the astonishing, overwhelming amount of new IoMTs and IoTs being introduced to healthcare facilities, having an accurate asset inventory, maintained in real-time, is paramount for establishing top-notch cybersecurity.

Now, Layer 1 visibility, a component of hardware security, is not an often talked about domain of cybersecurity. So, understandably, one might question the value it brings, especially to the healthcare industry. But that is why we are here. And even if you are familiar with hardware security and the benefits of it, below you will find four reasons why Layer 1 visibility is so relevant to the healthcare sector.

Reason one: Complete asset visibility

Establishing complete visibility is a primary focus for all workplaces that deal with large quantities of technological devices, especially IoMTs and IoTs, as it is the foundation to subsequent cybersecurity efforts. A large number of assets in a workplace can create a virtual technical jungle that can be very difficult to keep track of, resulting in an inaccurate asset inventory and limited security capabilities. One of the main culprits that can be linked to this problem is the lack of visibility found in HDOs. Existing cybersecurity tools only provide visibility from Layer 2 and up, relying on traffic monitoring to detect devices. However, traffic monitoring only says so much about a device’s identity, and such method relies on devices being active and emitting traffic, thus failing to account for those which do not, ultimately resulting in an inaccurate asset inventory. Manually inventorying assets is an option, but an unrealistic one at that when considering the size and scope of HDOs’ environment – imagine trying to create an Excel spreadsheet of every connected asset. Hence, the visibility blind spot is extremely problematic as there is a warped perception of the organization’s asset infrastructure and, more worryingly, device vulnerabilities go unnoticed. Thus, healthcare institutions need to adopt Layer 1 visibility as this method of agnostic detection provides a holistic overview of all devices regardless of functionality and operability. Furthermore, visibility on the hardware level offers a component level perspective of all assets, revealing their true identity. With Layer 1 visibility, there is no need for spreadsheets and potentially conflicting device identifications; HDOs can feel confident that their asset inventory is complete, accurate, and maintained in real-time.

Reason two: Hardware access control

Once complete visibility of your hardware assets has been established, you may then focus on access control. Complete asset visibility enables the efficient enforcement of access control policies on all devices connected to the network. With every device getting detected and its true identity revealed, enterprises can feel confident that their access control policies are comprehensively enforced. This is especially relevant for IoMTs, which are not 802.1x-compliant and thus rely on weaker authentication protocols. With Layer 1 visibility, IoMTs get properly authenticated, meaning enhanced security for all devices, regardless of their functionality and operability.

Reason three: Continuous device operability

Another great reason to adopt physical hardware visibility is to ensure the continued operability of devices across the entire spectrum of the healthcare industry. Medical devices, specifically, must always be fully operational as they are vital in sustaining and maintaining human life; a failure of these devices could lead to deadly consequences, and there is no room for error when it comes to dealing with the lives of others. Layer 1 visibility enables continuous monitoring of all devices in your network, making sure the hardware operates as intended and detecting when any changes get made to the Bill of Materials. Furthermore, by verifying a device’s integrity, Layer 1 visibility aids in the prevention of predisposed device problems that can hinder operability; HDOs can be sure that the product received aligns with what was ordered, and that no refurbishments have unknowingly been made to the device. Lastly, continuous device operability is maintained by accounting for previously unknown hardware vulnerabilities. Whether the device itself becomes inoperable, or causes other devices to malfunction, Layer 1 visibility guarantees that hardware vulnerabilities don’t slip under the radar.

Reason four: Regulation

The healthcare industry is known for having some of the strictest regulations and levels of compliance it must meet. One primary example of such a binding regulation is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which, in short, stipulates that the personal information of patients is maintained by the healthcare industry and must be protected and addressed. Hospitals and insurance companies take this act very seriously due to the fact that any breach of compliance can result in hefty fines and penalties for the perpetrator. Luckily, one way to prevent facing such penalties is through Layer 1 visibility. Thanks to the aforementioned reasons, Layer 1 visibility enhances the entity’s hardware security posture (and overall cybersecurity posture), ensuring that hardware devices, and their associated risks, are properly managed so that patient data remains protected.

So here you have it, four reasons why you should think twice about Layer 1 visibility and how it can be incorporated into the healthcare industry. Ensuring proper visibility and access control in the workplace is vital in navigating the vast expanding Sahara of IoMTs. Should you ever encounter yourself in a situation where you are asked for four reasons why Layer 1 visibility is essential, you will now have the knowledge to answer them on the spot!