Safeguarding your healthcare organization’s electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI) against cybersecurity threats is like protecting your financial assets from potential fraudsters.

Just as neglecting to invest in robust security measures could leave your finances vulnerable to theft, overlooking or minimizing the importance of threat management could expose your health system’s sensitive patient information to cybercriminals.

To help mitigate this risk, many healthcare organizations choose to adopt a vulnerability threat management program.

What is Vulnerability Threat Management? 

Vulnerability Threat Management (VTM) is a comprehensive approach aimed at mitigating cybersecurity attacks. It involves proactively monitoring and addressing potential vulnerabilities within an organization’s network, and staying one step ahead of attackers.

How? By gaining visibility into the network, quickly identifying vulnerabilities, and efficiently remedying them.

In addition, VTM programs assist in maintaining compliance with regulatory requirements. These programs employ a streamlined process that includes network scanning, vulnerability identification, patching of high-risk areas, and continuous monitoring through a centralized tracking and inventory system. Various systems, such as computers, IoT devices, mobile devices, and medical devices, along with other network-connected technologies, are assessed for vulnerabilities.

These assessments often identify:

  • Operating system and software vulnerabilities
  • Outdated versions of software and operating systems
  • Open ports and services
  • Vulnerable script paths

By implementing a robust VTM program, healthcare organizations establish a proactive cycle of identification, management, and reporting, significantly improving the overall security of their systems. These services are ongoing, allowing organizations to conduct scans at any time to detect and address existing vulnerabilities promptly. 

Essential elements of a VTM program 

While Vulnerability Threat Management programs should be customized to meet specific requirements of the organization, it’s important to keep in mind 6 essential components:

Asset inventory

Also referred to as asset discovery, asset inventory involves scanning the network to identify and log all connected devices. This process is a key starting point for any VTM program as it helps reveal potential blind spots and ensures comprehensive visibility, all of which helps to mitigate security risks associated with unidentified devices or branches within the organization.

Vulnerability scans

Once your team has a log of all the devices on the network, performing a vulnerability scan is a vital next step. These scans will uncover weaknesses in network security, allowing you to promptly address and patch vulnerabilities. Scanning technology can conduct both authenticated and unauthenticated scans, with authenticated scans recommended for thoroughness under a VTM program.

When should you conduct a vulnerability scan?

Establishing a consistent scanning schedule, such as monthly or quarterly, provides ongoing benefits. However, certain events or circumstances may require additional scans beyond the regular schedule. These include:

Facility Relocation: When a healthcare organization moves a facility, performing a scan is essential to ensure the security of the newly established network environment.

Equipment Installation: Installing new equipment, whether it’s medical devices or other technology, introduces potential vulnerabilities that warrant a scan to identify and address any security gaps.

Software Updates: Implementing new software or updating existing systems can introduce vulnerabilities. Scanning after software installations helps security teams identify and patch any weaknesses.

Cyber Incident Recovery: Following a cyber incident or breach, a scan is a crucial part of assessing the extent of the compromise, identify vulnerabilities that may have been exploited, and fortify the network against future attacks.

Compliance and Insurance Requirements: Healthcare regulators and cyber insurance providers may impose specific requirements for scanning frequency, or mandate scans under certain conditions to enhance security and maintain compliance.

By aligning scanning activities with these key events, and considering regulatory and insurance requirements, healthcare organizations can ensure comprehensive vulnerability assessments and strengthen their cybersecurity posture.

Risk management

Identifying vulnerabilities is only the first step; organizations will benefit from following up with effective risk management practices. Establishing a risk management system, potentially with the assistance of a healthcare cybersecurity firm, can help ensure vulnerabilities are addressed quickly and are no longer a cyber risk. It’s also essential to manage existing risks while waiting for software patches and to maintain detailed vulnerability logs.

Penetration testing

Penetration testing, or pen testing, is a valuable threat assessment service that complements vulnerability scans. Penetration tests simulate an actual cyber attack to expose vulnerabilities to assess the likelihood and impact of successful exploitation. These tests employ various real-world hacking techniques, providing valuable insights to bolster your organization’s defenses.

Tracking systems

A reliable tracking and reporting system integrates the above components, forming a comprehensive VTM program. Organizations need to track scan results, maintain an ongoing log of actions taken, and meticulously record VTM metrics. This allows for trend identification, patch tracking, error prevention, and supports compliance requirements.   

Reporting systems

In addition to meticulously tracking the results of vulnerability scans, organizations should also report results to the appropriate parties. This could mean reporting results to security managers within the organization or during a HIPAA audit.

Proactive protection

Implementing a well-rounded vulnerability threat management program is vital for safeguarding your healthcare organization against cybersecurity threats. With a strong VTM program in place, your healthcare organization can mitigate risks, stay compliant with regulations, and proactively protect against costly data breaches.

Learn more about vulnerability threat management and how an effective program helps secure your health system on our on-demand webinar, Attack Surface Management with VTM.