Crothall Healthcare Blog

How to Segment Networks Without Limiting Interoperability

Healthcare facilities are adopting new technologies to make it easier to connect devices and data. Interoperability is changing the way healthcare providers operate, and it has many benefits for patients.

As more facilities move towards higher levels of interoperability, it’s important that they take some preventative measures to ensure the safety and privacy of their patients. Learn what interoperability is and how segmenting networks can make it more secure. 

What Is Healthcare Interoperability? 

According to HIMSS, healthcare interoperability is when various systems, applications, and devices can access, exchange, and integrate data seamlessly. This data is easily transferred across organizations on a regional, national, or even global level. Healthcare interoperability helps healthcare facilities provide the best care for their patients since they can access and share patient data in different settings securely. If a patient receives care at one facility, but it treated at another location later in the future, their information can be easily transferred and accessed.  

Healthcare interoperability can save hospitals time and money, says Becker’s Hospital Review. With this approach, staff can look up patients’ data and spend less time re-entering information. Patients also appreciate that they can access their medical history. Now switching medical providers or starting a new treatment at a different facility is significantly less tedious. Patients aren’t as heavily burdened with paperwork – their medical information moves with them.  

What Is Network Segmentation? 

Network segmentation is when you partition or divide your network into smaller networks, also called subnetworks or Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs). The purpose of it is the limit access to sensitive information while still operating efficiently. Hackers often try to gain access to a network and move along the network through different connections and devices. With network segmentation, this is much more difficult since everything isn’t connected. When a user wants to access another subnetwork, they need to go through another set of security measures to do so. For example, they may need an additional password or have the administrator grant them access. 

The Importance of Network Segmentation  

When organizations use flat, open networks to accommodate for their communication and interoperability needs, they are increasing their risk for security breaches. According to Fortinet, open networks lack security infrastructure, making it difficult for administrators to detect suspicious traffic behaviors and flows of data. Fortinet found that the average mean time to detect a network threat is 197 days and it takes an average of 69 days to contain and eliminate this threat.  

Eddie Myers, a Program Manager Cybersecurity Solutions at Crothall, says that when no segmentation is in place, anybody can get onto your network and have access to everything. This includes important patient information and data that hackers may want to steal. This is why it’s so important for healthcare providers to have a segmented network. Myers says that with a segmented network, it removes the point where someone can connect to, which helps you protect your network.  

In addition to increased cybersecurity, network segmentation makes your systems operate more efficiently. For instance, if you had a flat network and it failed, your entire network would be down. With multiple subnetworks, if one network fails, the other ones are likely to still be up and running. Since hospitals are 24/7 operations, this piece is critical. 

How to Segment Networks without Limiting Interoperability 

Network segmentation can make things operate faster and boost performance. This is because there are fewer hosts per subnetwork, which lowers local traffic and reduces congestion. Make sure your hospital has a good network map to avoid limiting interoperability. A network map can help you detect where issues arise and allow you to see who is accessing your network. If you notice a suspicious IP address or connection, you can simply disconnect it.  

Tips for Network Segmentation 

Keep your systems secure by physically separating sensitive information. CISA recommends that organizations use routers to separate Local Area Network (LAN) segments. Do this by placing routers between networks to create boundaries, filter users’ broadcast traffic, and increase the number of broadcast domains. During an intrusion, you can use these different boundaries to restrict traffic and separate segments. CISA adds that you can even shut down segments of your network during a threat.  

Along with physical separation, CISA suggests organizations also virtually separate their sensitive information. Unlike physical separation, you won’t need additional hardware. Instead, you can use existing technology to prevent hackers from getting into other internal network segments. In order to do this, CISA says you can use private VLANs to separate a suspicious user from your other broadcast domains. You can also use virtual routing and forwarding (VRF) technology or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to make it even more difficult for hackers to get into your network. 

Another way to protect your network is by limiting unnecessary lateral communications. Don’t allow unfiltered peer-to-peer communications. This can make it very easy for a hacker to access multiple systems. Restrict these kinds of communications by using host-based firewall rules that prohibit the flow of packets from one host to another in your network. You can set the rules to filter on a host device, program, IP (internet protocol) address, or user, limiting access from systems and services.  

It’s important for healthcare facilities to find a balance between interoperability and network segmentation. With both of these, they can provide better patient care while keeping their data safe and secure. Start taking these steps toward a more secure network to protect your facility and patients from incoming threats. By putting in the time, money, and effort now, you can avoid the fallout of a security breach later.  

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