Jun 05 2024

What Is Cyber Resilience, and How Should Healthcare Organizations Approach It?

Cyber resilience strategies should include a holistic approach to backup and recovery to ensure minimal impact on operations, workflows and patient care following an adverse event.

Today’s cybercriminals are targeting a wide range of healthcare organizations without discrimination, seeking to profit from their illicit activities. This includes prominent hospital systems, rural hospitals and specialized children’s health institutions, which have recently become prime targets for increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.

In the event of a successful breach, these institutions face exorbitant ransom demands, often in the millions of dollars, and significant efforts are required to restore normal operations and to maintain continuity of care. Beyond the immediate financial impact and the potential effect on patients, victims of cyberattacks also suffer from reputational damage and lost opportunities. The aftermath of ransomware attacks leaves organizations struggling to return to their previous state, with little understanding of the underlying causes of their defensive shortcomings.

Meanwhile, cybercriminals continue to refine their techniques, leveraging advanced technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to further augment their malware code and expand their illicit revenue streams.

At the same time, natural disasters are also growing in severity and frequency, which can threaten hospital operations at a time when the community may need the organization most. As these events and cyberattacks become more common, it’s important that healthcare organizations have a robust cyber resilience strategy in place to recover from successful breaches with minimal downtime, financial cost, and impact on workflows and patient care.

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How Does Cyber Resilience Relate to Backup and Recovery?

Cyber resilience refers to an organization’s ability to manage people, processes and technologies aimed at withstanding and adapting to adverse events, including cyberattacks, natural disasters and operational failures. It also encompasses a broad range of proactive measures designed to minimize the impact of disruptions while maintaining baseline operations and services.

Backup involves making copies of data and storing them in a separate location or system to protect against data loss. Backups serve as a critical component of resilience by providing a means to recover data in the event of accidental data loss, system or hardware failure, or a malicious attack such as ransomware.

Recovery involves the restoration of systems, data and operations to their usual state after a disruptive event. Healthcare organizations use backups and other recovery mechanisms to rebuild systems and retrieve lost or corrupted data. Typically, recovery operations require the collaboration of a diverse group of specialists, each contributing expertise in various facets of the business. Together, their concerted efforts facilitate the return of the business to normal operations.

While resilience, backup and recovery are interconnected, they serve distinct purposes within the context of cybersecurity and business continuity. Resilience focuses on building a robust and adaptable organizational framework to mitigate risks and maintain operations in the face of adversity. Backup ensures the availability of critical data for recovery purposes, while recovery involves restoring systems and operations to normalcy following a disruptive event. Together, these elements form a comprehensive strategy to protect organizations from cyberthreats and other disruptions.



The Importance of Cyber Resilience in Healthcare

Cyber resiliency is paramount for healthcare organizations today due to several factors:

  • Patient safety: Healthcare organizations store vast amounts of sensitive patient data, including medical records, personal information, financial information and treatment histories. A cyberattack can compromise this data, jeopardizing patient privacy and safety. For instance, if medical records are altered or inaccessible during an attack, patient care may be compromised, leading to potential harm.
  • Regulatory compliance: Healthcare organizations are subject to stringent federal regulations, such as HIPAA, in addition to their own state directives. These regulations mandate the protection and confidentiality of patient information. Failure to comply can result in severe penalties and legal consequences.
  • Operational continuity: Healthcare services rely heavily on digital systems for patient care, scheduling, billing and communication. A cyberattack that disrupts these systems can impede essential services, causing treatment delays, appointment cancellations and financial losses. Cyber resiliency ensures the organization can maintain essential functions even during and after a system failure or a cyber incident.
  • Reputation management: Healthcare organizations hold the trust of patients and the public in their communities. A successful cyberattack can damage this trust, leading to reputational harm and loss of confidence. Patients may seek care elsewhere if they perceive their data to be unsafe, impacting the organization’s revenue and standing in the community.
  • Financial implications: A major cyber incident and the resulting recovery process can be financially draining for healthcare organizations. Beyond the immediate costs of remediation, there are potential fines, legal fees and expenses associated with restoring systems and compensating affected individuals. Cyber resiliency measures can mitigate these financial risks by preventing or minimizing the impact of attacks.

READ MORE: Follow these best practices to improve cyber resilience in healthcare.

A Framework to Create Cyber Resilience Success in Healthcare

The significance of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework 2.0 for healthcare cybersecurity strategy planning cannot be overstated. It illuminates the pervasive nature of security within an organization, transcending the confines of the security operations center. This revised framework fosters inclusivity, bringing diverse stakeholders into the fold and dispelling any notion that cybersecurity is solely the concern of the IT team. By standardizing terminology across IT, it facilitates coherent communication, bridging the gap between executives and frontline security personnel. The framework’s enterprisewide application broadens the spectrum of decision-makers, instilling a sense of confidence and ownership among all involved parties.

A major cyber incident and the resulting recovery process can be financially draining for healthcare organizations.”

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework includes six core functions that can aid healthcare organizations in their cybersecurity and cyber resilience strategy:

  1. Governance involves establishing policies, procedures and oversight mechanisms to ensure that cybersecurity practices align with organizational objectives and regulatory requirements. In healthcare organizations, robust governance frameworks help define roles and responsibilities, allocate resources effectively and establish accountability for cybersecurity initiatives. This includes setting clear guidelines for risk management, compliance and incident response.
  2. Visibility refers to the ability to monitor, analyze and understand the organization’s cybersecurity posture in real time. Healthcare organizations must have comprehensive visibility into their networks, systems and data to identify vulnerabilities, detect threats and respond promptly to incidents. This involves implementing tools and technologies for continuous monitoring, threat intelligence and data analytics to gain insights into potential risks and anomalies.
  3. Data protection technologies are essential for safeguarding sensitive patient information and maintaining compliance with regulations such as HIPAA. Healthcare organizations need robust encryption, access controls and data loss prevention solutions to protect against unauthorized access, data breaches and insider threats. Additionally, technologies such as encryption and anonymization can mitigate the impact of data breaches and ensure patient privacy.
  4. The ability to detect anomalies is critical for identifying potential security incidents and unauthorized activities within healthcare networks. Organizations should deploy advanced threat detection technologies such as intrusion detection and prevention systems, anomaly detection and behavioral analytics to detect suspicious behavior and indicators of compromise. Automated alerting and response capabilities enable rapid detection and containment of threats, minimizing the risk of data breaches and operational disruptions.
  5. The ability to respond to incidents and cyberthreats is a key part of the framework. Prompt and effective incident response is essential for mitigating the impact of cyberthreats and minimizing downtime in healthcare organizations. This requires well-defined incident response plans, trained personnel and coordinated response efforts across the organization. Health systems should conduct regular incident response exercises, establish communication channels with stakeholders and collaborate with external partners (such as law enforcement and cybersecurity vendors) to effectively respond to incidents and restore operations.
  6. The ability to recover operations is crucial for restoring critical systems and services following a cyber incident or other disruption. Healthcare organizations need smart and comprehensive backup and recovery solutions to ensure the availability and integrity of data, applications and infrastructure. This includes regular backups, data replication and disaster recovery planning to minimize downtime and expedite the restoration of operations. Additionally, testing and validation of recovery procedures are essential to ensure readiness and resilience in the face of cyberthreats and other emergencies.

Healthcare organizations need to prioritize governance, visibility, data protection technologies, anomaly detection, incident response capabilities and operational recovery to build resilience against cyberthreats and ensure the continuity of critical healthcare services. By implementing robust strategies and solutions in these areas, organizations can better protect patient data, maintain regulatory compliance and mitigate the impact of cyber incidents on patient care and organizational operations.

DIVE DEEPER: Modern data platforms support data governance in healthcare.

Benefits of the Cloud for Healthcare Cyber Resilience

Processing data in the cloud offers several advantages for enhancing cyber resiliency. Cloud platforms provide scalable resources that can accommodate fluctuating workloads and data processing requirements. This scalability enables organizations to quickly scale up or down their computing resources based on demand, ensuring consistent performance and availability during normal operations as well as times of increased activity or cyberattacks.

Cloud providers offer redundant infrastructure and geographically distributed data centers, reducing the risk of data loss or downtime due to hardware failures, natural disasters or cyberattacks. By leveraging these redundant architectures, organizations can achieve higher levels of availability and resilience for their data processing operations.

Cloud providers also invest heavily in security technologies and compliance certifications to protect customer data and ensure regulatory compliance. These security controls include encryption, access controls, threat detection and monitoring capabilities that enhance data protection and mitigate cybersecurity risks. By leveraging these built-in security features, organizations can strengthen their cyber resilience posture and reduce the likelihood of data breaches or compliance violations.

Additional cloud platform benefits include robust disaster recovery and business continuity capabilities, enabling organizations to replicate their data and applications across multiple regions and implement automated failover mechanisms. In the event of a cyber incident or other disruption, organizations can quickly recover their data and restore operations without significant downtime or data loss, thereby enhancing their resilience to cyberthreats.

Click below to learn how to optimize healthcare’s connection to the hybrid cloud.


Cloud computing offers a pay-as-you-go pricing model, allowing organizations to pay only for the resources they consume and avoid upfront investments in hardware and infrastructure. This cost-efficiency enables organizations to allocate their IT budgets more effectively and invest in other cybersecurity initiatives to enhance their overall cyber resilience.

In addition, cloud-based data processing enables real-time collaboration and agility by providing access to data and applications from anywhere, at any time and on any device. This flexibility allows healthcare organizations to adapt quickly to changing business needs, respond rapidly to cyberthreats, and make informed decisions based on real-time data insights, thereby enhancing their overall cyber resilience posture.

Processing data in the cloud offers numerous advantages for enhancing cyber resilience, including scalability, redundancy, security controls, disaster recovery capabilities, cost efficiency and agility. By leveraging these benefits, organizations can strengthen their defenses against cyberthreats and ensure the continuity and availability of their data processing operations in the face of evolving cybersecurity challenges.

RELATED: CDW ensures cloud migration success in five critical ways.

Tips to Improve Healthcare Organizations’ Cyber Resilience

Healthcare organizations should begin the process of creating a robust cyber resilience strategy by evaluating the organization’s current resiliency and recovery capabilities. IT teams should identify strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement to inform strategic planning.

However, healthcare organizations shouldn’t approach this process alone. Partnering with trusted experts who can validate and support the organization’s cyber resiliency initiatives is critical. Organizations should seek out vendors or consultants such as CDW with proven experience in cybersecurity, disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

The organization should establish a dedicated governance committee that comprises key stakeholders from across the organization. This committee will drive initiatives, ensure alignment with business objectives and oversee the adoption of cyber resiliency measures.

In addition, integrating a recognized cybersecurity framework such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework or the Center for Internet Security’s 18 Critical Security Controls into the organization’s planning gives the security team the benefit of comprehensive guidelines and best practices for managing cybersecurity risks effectively.

Healthcare organizations should also develop both short-term and long-term roadmaps for implementing cyber resiliency measures. Include recurring validation activities to assess progress, identify gaps and ensure maximum adoption and operational efficiency over time.

It’s also recommended that organizations prioritize data categorization and application rationalization as part of their backup and recovery strategies. This ensures that critical data and applications are appropriately protected and can be recovered in the event of a cyber incident.

Finally, organizations should ensure they have sufficient personnel with the necessary expertise to deploy and manage new cyber resiliency initiatives. Alternatively, consider leveraging third-party providers for professional or managed services to supplement internal capabilities and resources.

By following these tips, healthcare organizations can strengthen their cyber resiliency posture, mitigate risks and ensure continuity of operations in the face of evolving cyberthreats.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series.


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