Operational Technology (OT) has transformed the healthcare industry in Australia, streamlining patient care and enhancing treatment outcomes. With the increasing integration of Information Technology (IT) into traditional OT environments. to provide further connection to medical equipment and connected systems, the benefits of OT are becoming more evident. However, as the number of devices connected to OT devices and systems grows, so do the potential for cyber attacks. Healthcare records have become a prime target for cyber criminals, and the importance of OT in healthcare, the risks associated with cyber attacks, and the steps that can be taken to ensure the security of these vital technologies should not be overlooked.
OT systems play a critical role in modern healthcare facilities, enabling more efficient patient care, precise diagnostics, and advanced treatment options. These systems encompass everything from electronic health records to medical imaging devices, smart infusion pumps, and remote patient monitoring systems. As a result, healthcare professionals can make better-informed decisions, improve patient experiences, and focus on saving lives.
As the healthcare sector operational technology becomes more heavily connected with IT systems, it is increasingly exposed to the risks of external cyber attacks. Cyber criminals are aware of the value of the sensitive data stored within these systems and are constantly finding new ways to exploit vulnerabilities, or leverage off existing vulnerabilities to compromise systems. Cyber attacks on healthcare institutions have resulted in the theft of personal information, disruption of medical services, and even life-threatening situations for patients. For example, ransomware attacks can lead to the temporary shutdown of critical systems, affecting patient care and even endangering lives.
To combat the increasing threat of cyber attacks on OT systems, it is essential that healthcare professionals, administrators, and IT staff become aware of the risks involved. This means understanding the potential vulnerabilities in their networks and devices, recognising the warning signs of a cyber attack, and being prepared to respond effectively. Developing a culture of cybersecurity awareness within healthcare organisations is key to minimising the risks associated with OT environments and ensuring the safety of critical systems and services.
To protect OT systems, healthcare organisations must prioritise security measures, such as:
Additional safety measures that can help secure the IT/OT environment are things such as implementing multi-factor authentication, strong encryption requirements for data storage and transmission, and secure disposal practices for outdated or decommissioned devices.
The UK government, along with industry partners, plays a crucial role in promoting and supporting cybersecurity efforts within the healthcare sector. Initiatives like the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) health care cyber-resilience program will help educate healthcare professionals and provide resources to embed security into new and existing technology in the health sector to strengthen the cybersecurity posture of healthcare organisations. Industry collaboration and partnerships are vital in sharing knowledge, best practices, and threat intelligence to stay ahead of cyber criminals.
Operational Technology has undoubtedly revolutionised the healthcare industry, but it also brings with it the challenge of securing these vital systems. By increasing cyber security awareness, implementing robust security measures, and fostering strong government support for the industry, the healthcare sector can continue to reap the benefits of OT while ensuring uninterrupted, high-quality care and securing sensitive patient information.