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Securing the cloud in health care is a shared responsibility

By Wayne Reynolds

The market dynamics of the health care industry are continuously evolving due to disruptive new business models, digitalization, regulatory uncertainty and increasing patient care demands. To keep up with these shifts, health care systems are leveraging the cloud, as organizations are feeling the gravitational pull toward faster go-to-market strategies, flexibility, and pricing advantages versus legacy on-premise approaches to IT.

As the cloud becomes more prominent in health care IT systems, organizations are increasingly concerned with how to best migrate security and compliance controls to the cloud alongside their data and applications. To demonstrate how easily a health care organization can be targeted by cybercriminals, security researchers from Armor teamed with a third-party firm to construct a honeypot – decoy servers designed to lure attackers to record and analyze their activity – under the guise of a small doctor’s office.

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The project deployed three different servers in the cloud: one insecure, one with only cloud-native security controls, and one fully secured using the Armor Anywhere managed security-as-a-service offering. The researchers created websites for the doctor’s office that ran at and, and migrated a variety of IP addresses, domains, and infrastructure to the cloud with the goal of mimicking a public cloud environment that would typically be run by a small or midsize health care system.

Unsurprisingly, vulnerable applications and the prospect of hitting a data goldmine captured the interest of hackers, and attacks began within minutes of server activation. More than 560 attempted attacks per week were launched against the server with cloud-native security, and hidden inside those numbers were hundreds of attempts to move deeper into the systems.

By the end of the project, hackers had attacked the unprotected server more than 19,000 times with roughly 2,500 attempts per week, throughout the course of roughly three months – approximately 391 percent more attacks per week than its fully secured counterpart. Overall, the server with only a native firewall experienced 11 percent more hits per week than the secured server protected by Armor Anywhere.

To better safeguard sensitive data within cloud environments, establishing additional layers of security on top of cloud providers' native security controls addresses the risks of an expanded attack surface. While the shared responsibility model allows health care organizations to offload a portion of accountability to cloud service providers, the price of failing to properly protect data is far greater than the upfront investment. According to a 2016 study by the Ponemon Institute, data breaches could be costing the U.S. health care industry billions, leaving an organization’s reputation damaged, and concerned patients in its wake.
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