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Health industry networks in poor state of heath

When it comes to security in any sector, prevention is better than cure. DOROS HADJIZENONOS, Country Manager of Check Point, discusses the latest threats to the healthcare industry and how the industry can increase its protection against cyber-attacks.

The healthcare industry, arguably one of the most technologically advanced considering the gadgets and devices now used to monitor health statistics and perform medical procedures, is ironically among the most ‘unhealthy’ when it comes to network security.

Delegates attending the recent Healthcare Innovation Summit were told that medical records are being increasingly targeted by cybercriminals – data from the US showed that 89% of healthcare institutions suffered a security breach and were twice more likely to be targeted than other organisations.

Healthcare record theft increased a shocking 1100% this year with more than 100 million records compromised worldwide. The biggest threat, says KPMG, comes from external attackers – at 65% – while malware tops the list of information security concerns.

But why is an industry with the technological ability to perform surgery on patients in other countries so sick when it comes to protecting information?

The answer is multi-faceted:

  • Valuable data. Data collected and stored by hospitals and other organisations, such as medical aid schemes, is up to ten times more valuable to cybercriminals than credit card information. This is due to the sheer volume of information gathered about individuals – and the fact that we’re seeing an increased shift to digital medical records – which makes it easy to commit fraud and identity theft. Given the value of this data on the black market, cyber-attacks are becoming ever more sophisticated in their attempts to hack healthcare institutions.
  • Ageing infrastructure. Hospitals are melting pots of outdated infrastructure, old operating systems and state-of-the-art medical technology, all communicating over the same networks. Often, hospitals take an ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ approach to technology, so devices may not be patched with the latest software versions, for example. The problem, however, is that the system is very much broken. KPMG found that, in terms of technical capabilities, the healthcare industry is behind other industries when it comes to protecting infrastructure and information.
  • Complex networks. The fact that so many different people, devices and departments need to access a medical institution’s records forces them to adopt open networks. Add to this the increasing number of Internet of Things and the myriad Internet-connected gadgets connecting to the network and it becomes difficult to secure and even more vulnerable to attack.
  • No budget. Security spending in the healthcare industry is at times as little as one-tenth of what other industries spend. When it comes to technology spending, a new MRI machine will likely win the budget lottery over security software.
  • Easy targets. Ransomware is one of the biggest methods used by cybercriminals to gain access to medical data. This involves ‘kidnapping’ the data and only releasing it once the hospital pays a ransom. Because medical organisations are generally dealing with crises, they need urgent access to their data and are more willing to pay the ransom to get back up and running as quickly as possible. Cybercriminals know this and are exploiting it.
  • Lack of understanding and awareness. Although medical institutions are becoming more technologically centric, that’s not to say they’re focusing on technology and there’s a lack of understanding of what’s going on when it comes to cyber security. There needs to be an increased understanding of how to defend against attacks like ransomware, coupled with a bigger focus on educating staff and users on how to spot phishing attacks – people are, after all, the weakest link in the security chain.

Prevention is better than cure

 It sounds clichéd but, when it comes to security in any sector, prevention certainly is better than cure.

In order to gain a holistic overview of the network, technology managers need to design the infrastructure from the bottom up, starting with the physical layer, comprising devices and other hardware, and working up to the application layer. This multi-layered approach to security gives IT managers more visibility into the network so that they can see what data is coming into and leaving the network and can implement controls as required. For example, sensitive patient information can be encrypted as it traverses the network between devices, while less sensitive information, such as that collected by fitness devices, can be subject to less stringent protection measures.

Education of staff members is also critical. They need to be able to identify hacks such as spear phishing and ransomware attempts so that they know not to click on malicious links and to alert the IT department to such attempts. There also needs to be a general increase in awareness within the healthcare sector of the various methods used by cybercriminals to gain access to medical data. In many cases, medical institutions do not even know that they’ve been infiltrated purely because they don’t know the warning signs. They need to take a more proactive approach to network security and understand how to prevent certain attacks.

Security should not be reactive and should not be done just because organisations want to comply with legislation such as the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act. But unfortunately, this is the case in the healthcare industry and it’s the reason why they are always one step behind the attackers. Rather, security should be about prevention and the desire to ensure the integrity of sensitive information.

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Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as it reaches the end of its support, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.

On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.

Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.

Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.

While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.

Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.

Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager. 

The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.

A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2005.

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Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery

Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.

“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.

Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”

Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.

Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”

Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.

“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”

* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on sacloud@huawei.com.

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