SD-WAN: The Backbone to Cybersecurity in the Healthcare Industry

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By Heather Paunet

In recent years, the healthcare industry has regularly been among the largest victims of cyber-attacks, with 2019 claiming a record 462 major data breaches. This trend has only been exacerbated by the global healthcare crisis we are currently experiencing with the global COVID-19 pandemic. Eager to take advantage of overworked systems and employees, COVID-19 has led to a boom of related attacks, with Google successfully blocking more than 18 million COVID-19 phishing emails a day

Despite this, hospitals and healthcare providers, now more than ever, need their internet connection as they are relying upon servers and medical Internet of Things (IoT) devices connected across multi-site networks. To combat COVID-19 cyber-attacks, healthcare providers need more than security: they need security that provides them with a range of connectivity solutions.

For smaller clinics and service providers, this proves an even greater challenge, as financial hurdles disincentivize the adoption of wide-spread networking hardware. To face these challenges, healthcare providers turn increasingly to look for powerful software solutions offering both in-sync deployment and next-generation firewall protection.

SD-WAN: What is it?

In order to work through the intricacies of implementing network security best practices to safeguard an organization’s resources without breaking the budget, a software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) approach should be at the top of the list.

So what is a wide-area network (WAN)? WAN is necessary for any company that is seeking to expand or has resources separated by distance. It allows separate branches to communicate with each other and the headquarters and smaller branch offices in separate buildings to connect. Traditionally, WAN requires proprietary hardware, but in the new era of cloud-based applications and services, SD-WAN has rapidly been moving in.

SD-WAN is considered a cost-efficient solution for organizations or small clinics because it allows business-critical traffic to have priority on the network without a costly hardware overhead to consider. SD-WAN helps health care and medical organizations segment network traffic to ensure patient data connectivity is prioritized above other traffic. 

SD-WAN: Helping Prioritize Network Traffic

With SD-WAN deployments, high-bandwidth machines, such as medical imaging and monitoring devices, are given traffic priority, limiting any latency between scans and results, giving doctors the most relevant information for patient care faster than traditional deployments. 

Giving priority to image machines, video conferencing, and VoIP services allows smaller clinics to get the most bandwidth out of their current Internet service. Instead of paying more to an internet service provider to meet the needs of bandwidth intensive essential services, SD-WAN can help prioritize these services, saving providers both time and money during a time when resources are spread dramatically thin. 

Further, it provides HIPAA compliance and enhanced security with dynamic application based routing based on centrally defined policies and security solutions at the network core.

Most importantly, when dealing with multiple site locations, SD-WAN allows network security policies, which are established through a Next Generation firewall solution at the headquarter office, to be applied over branch office network traffic without additional hardware investment at the branch office.

SD-WAN: Promoting Unified Security Across Branch Offices 

Many healthcare organizations are located throughout a wide geographical space, whether that be within the same city, state or cross-country. So how can we unify security across all these sites?

A small lightweight device such as an SD-WAN Router is all that’s needed. These small devices tend to be much lower cost than other types of networking devices (such as a full Next Generation Firewall).  An SD-WAN Router at a small site can connect back to a full NG Firewall so that the smaller site gets the same protections as the rest of the network without having to put more expensive devices in place at every location.

Further, SD-WAN allows organizations to set up completely separate networks between devices, between locations and for different types of information passing through the network.  It applies similar policies and protection over all of them in a unified fashion, which means less work for an already limited IT staff. This way, if one network gets compromised, it will not affect the other networks. This is a precaution worth taking when hospital data breaches are more common now than we have ever seen.

Since SD-WAN is a virtual network overlay rather than a singular, physical space, it’s necessary for businesses to adopt solutions from vendors that offer the same or similar-strength security stack where and when it is needed. Instead of backhauling and deploying expensive security applications at every branch, a well-designed SD-WAN solution provides all the same security benefits to each branch remotely – the ideal solution for hospitals who are looking to provide quality care while at the same time promoting remote work whenever possible. 

In these times of crisis, healthcare providers are forced to stretch resources thin, and hospital IT staff are no exception. SD-WAN, when used correctly, can provide several benefits to healthcare providers and their businesses: 

  • Cost-effectiveness: Traditional WANs used to connect branch offices can be expensive. SD-WAN is much less expensive because it optimizes current network traffic, minimizing costs for infrastructure upgrades due to bandwidth usage increases.
  • Prioritizing Network Traffic: Thanks to the option of having different networks built under the same policies, organizations can make sure priority data is transmitted first, while lesser urgent items still get through as needed.
  • Improved Security: While traditional WAN works with many applications at various branch offices, SD-WAN is able to integrate with a centrally located web filtering service that offers malware protection and other cybersecurity measures to every branch and remote device in the company.

About the Author

Heather Paunet is the Vice President of Product Management at Untangle, responsible for building the right products for customers, taking into account customer needs and market trends. She has over 15 years’ experience driving the development and go-to-market of software solutions. Prior to joining Untangle, she held product leadership roles at Cisco Systems, and was Vice President of Product at various high-tech security and networking companies in the Silicon Valley. She has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering and spent the first few years of her career as a software engineer.

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