Threat Hunting in Healthcare: What It Is & Why It Matters

Magnifying glass inspecting a computer

Incident response is a vital part of a strong cybersecurity program. However, responding to cybersecurity threats and attacks is only part of the equation. Healthcare organizations need to be proactive in their security solutions, spotting threats before they lead to data loss. 

This is where threat hunting comes in. 

A comprehensive threat hunting program can assist in proactively safeguarding PHI and PII. Integrating threat hunting into your organization’s security posture requires threat assessment tools and expertise. Here is what your IT team should know about threat hunting and how it relates to healthcare. 

What Is Threat Hunting?

Threat hunting involves proactively searching an organization’s cyber landscape for suspicious activity. Through the program, the IT team will search endpoints, databases, networks, cloud infrastructure, and file systems for signs of threats. Analysts typically use a combination of manual and automated searches to search for this activity.

This effort is a critical part of any robust cybersecurity program because it focuses on persistent threats. When a malicious actor enters a network, they may remain undetected for months or longer. The more time a cybercriminal has to execute an attack, the more sophisticated it may be. 

Threat hunting adds another layer to data loss prevention, taking a deep dive into networks, data sources, and endpoints to spot threats. 

What do these threats look like?

Cybersecurity experts employ technology and manually search for signs that a cybercriminal has compromised a system. Some examples of these signs include:

  • Unusual activity on an account or device
  • Abnormally high traffic
  • Atypical outbound traffic
  • Abnormally fast or slow traffic
  • File changes
  • Unusual email activity 
  • Suspicious login activity
  • Abnormal device-to-device communication 
  • Web browser redirects

Today’s cyber-attacks are more complex than ever; so implementing threat hunting within your organization requires a full threat intelligence program. Managed security service providers (MSSP) will provide comprehensive threat intelligence services, using a variety of tools to spot risks before they become a larger problem. They will then pinpoint and eliminate the threat, making recommendations for future prevention. 

The specific makeup of threat intelligence varies by organization. A recent Ponemon Institute report found that 54% of organizations surveyed integrated threat intelligence into their endpoint security systems and 49% integrated it into SIEM. These represented the most common integrations, followed by firewall, IDS/IPS, DLP, and WAF. These tools help IT teams quickly spot, identify, and mitigate threats for long-term security. 

Threat intelligence is essential for controlling cyber risks, but without adequate support and expertise, these risks can slip through the cracks. Cybersecurity providers will maintain a threat hunting protocol within a full suite of security services. 

Why Does Threat Hunting Matter in Healthcare?

Healthcare organizations are common targets for cyber criminals. Hospitals, private practices, and medical offices handle patient data on a daily basis, and malicious actors see this data as valuable. This is why healthcare organizations need to be several steps ahead of cyber-attacks. 

There are several reasons why threat hunting should be a non-negotiable part of a healthcare organization’s security posture. The benefits of this service include:

  • Proactively Shield ePHI: Cyber criminals can compromise healthcare networks, databases, and endpoints to access and exploit sensitive data. Threat hunting helps organizations shield ePHI from any threats that might be lurking—remaining proactive when safeguarding ePHI protects patient confidentiality and security. 
  • Boost Threat Detection: Without threat hunting, threats might remain in a network for weeks without detection, but with this cyber security service, IT teams proactively search for signs of threats that other detection services may have missed. Threat hunting can allow IT experts to act before the threat turns into a breach. 
  • Safeguard Patient Care: A data breach will not only expose sensitive patient information; it can also hinder patient care. Cyber-attacks may compromise the devices that keep patients alive, so spotting threats early is imperative. Medical providers can sustain patient care with less worry when the IT team is running a threat hunting program. 
  • Optimize Technology: Healthcare organizations use a variety of tools to monitor their networks and endpoints. Threat hunting is one way that your organization can get the most out of this technology. When a program detects a threat, the threat hunter will trace and uncover the source. 
  • Collect Security Data: Threat hunting provides data on the types and frequency of cyber threats that healthcare organizations are facing. This helps IT teams address the most common vulnerabilities and strengthen security protocols. Organizations can use this data to identify long-term trends and upgrade their security tools accordingly. 
  • Mitigate False Positives: Without up-to-date threat detection tools, IT teams might waste time chasing false threats. This allows true threats to remain in the system even longer. Fortunately, threat hunting takes the guesswork out of the detection process. This protocol will help organizations more accurately identify and trace actual threats, eliminating the risk of false positives. 

Remember, threat hunting is part of a larger suite of SOC services. However, healthcare organizations should complement this active threat hunting with vulnerability threat management, penetration testing, incident response, dark web monitoring, and compromise assessments as part of a comprehensive threat mitigation program. 

Implementing this comprehensive approach to threat management requires outside support. According to the Ponemon Institute’s survey, healthcare organizations cited increasingly sophisticated attacks and a lack of in-house expertise as the top barriers to an effective threat data feed. Internal IT teams may have trouble fitting threat hunting into their daily tasks. This is where outsourced IT fills in the gaps.

An experienced MSSP can transform your organization’s security posture to take a more proactive approach to threat intelligence. Using a full suite of security tools, the MSSP will monitor and seek to identify and mitigate threats to prevent costly cybersecurity attacks. They will also provide incident response for any breaches that do occur. Incident response includes a full review of protocol, custom recommendations, and documentation support. Fortified Health Security is proud to offer threat hunting and assessment services and incident response services for our healthcare partners. Based in Franklin, TN, we support healthcare organizations of all sizes and provide managed IT services based on organizational needs. Our full set of offerings also includes healthcare security operations center (SOC) and advisory services. Contact us today to start customizing your cybersecurity solutions.