Business & Technology

Fireside Chat with Halifax Health: Protecting Patient Data with Firewalls and AI

By John Maddison | May 31, 2018

Halifax Health, based in Daytona Beach, is the largest healthcare provider in east central Florida, with 678 licensed beds and more than 500 doctors on its staff spread across two hospitals. “We are a hospital system that that cares for everyone in our community who comes through our doors,” says Tom Stafford, vice president and CIO.

A top priority for Halifax Health is safeguarding patient information. The hospital has been using Fortinet’s FortiGate firewalls for more than a year, and is now rolling out Fortinet’s new FortiGuard Artificial Intelligence threat analysis and detection solution. We recently talked with Stafford about the challenges of protecting health data and Halifax’s use of Fortinet products.

Q: Why are health-care providers such attractive targets?

A: Health-care facilities have become the latest thing for hackers to attack, and there’s a good reason: Generally, health-care centers have weaker cybersecurity than financial institutions, and our data is more valuable since it is lifetime data.

Q: Obviously, medical information is regulated. But is that the only reason for healthcare centers to protect it?

A: We have to safeguard information because we are stewards of it.  Our patients come to Halifax Health and trust that we will protect their information.  So we have to work really hard to protect it . If we were to lose it, obviously, we’d face fines. But more seriously, a breach has the potential to harm our patients , and that’s the last thing we want to do.

Q: In addition to cybersecurity, what are some of your top IT priorities?

A: In addition to safeguarding patient data, we focus on three other core IT objectives.  They are customer service; maintaining operational stability, which is a fancy statement for keeping the lights on; enhancing operational and strategic initiatives, i.e., making things better.

Due to a new threat of ransomware, Cybersecurity and operational stability are now closely related.

Q: What steps do you take to protect patient data?

A: We do a lot around protecting the patient data. We always work to make sure that we put the right level of security in, while allowing our users to still perform their duties. We focus on HIPAA’s physical security, technical security, and administrative standards and a deterrent in depth strategy.  We attempt to place as many deterrents as possible between the potential attack vectors and our patient’s data. A technical deterrent we utilize is Fortinet’s firewalls. We use an external firewall, which allows us to control the traffic coming in and out of the organization.

We also have internal firewalls, for network segmentation. It is a serious risk to any organization that has a flat network.  Especially due to the vulnerabilities that are inherent to some Biomed devices.

Q: What led you to explore Fortinet firewall products?

A: Our previous firewalls were aging to the point where performance was suffering. We couldn’t really put any more traffic through them. We didn’t decide to purchase new firewalls because of a vulnerability, but because our existing equipment was stressed.

Q: How did you hear about Fortinet?

A: I was at a panel discussion at a Gartner conference, and when Fortinet came up, two things struck me. The first one was that the firewall was the fastest available, and it didn’t delay traffic. The second thing that struck me was that the company’s products were described as “CFO friendly.”

We started a relationship with Fortinet in late 2016, but we started looking at the company’s products a year earlier.

We tested three or four firewall vendors, and we ran the same traffic through them. We determined that Fortinet slowed the bandwidth the least out of all of them. Fortinet firewalls performed better than our existing firewalls because they work at the firmware level, not the software level.

In addition to replacing our old firewalls, we needed to find a product that met our security and performance needs but also met our financial requirements.

Then, when we started negotiating pricing with Fortinet, we found that the “CFO friendly” reputation was deserved. Fortinet charges a fair price for its products.

Q: Recently, you also began looking at Fortinet’s new FortiGuard AI product. How does that fit into your security strategy?

A: New zero-day threats like WannaCry have resulted in rapidly spreading outbreaks that give little time for organizations to react, and today’s threat landscape is evolving faster than many organizations can keep up with. We believe that the new release of FortiGuard’s threat intelligence services could help us ensure that our security solutions are automatically updated to defend against the latest breaking threats.

We need more help than ever these days. Because Fortinet is using machine learning in their systems, they are finding zero day attacks faster than ever, which increases the speed at which signatures can be updated. With the addition of artificial intelligence, Fortinet now has powerful capabilities for creating relationships between raw code blocks and program execution points within files to discover inappropriate behavior or even uncover malicious intent, leading to earlier detection of malware in our systems. The AI supplemented system essentially provides automatic updates to our FortiGate firewalls to block malware, even when there is no one there to see or respond to an alert.

Q: How important is it for cybersecurity products to work together as well as to scale to meet your future needs?

A:  We knew that we needed to continue to secure our organization and our patient’s data.  We wanted to also purchase an internal firewall with enhanced threat protection from the same vendor so we could manage them together on a single management console.

This is why we purchased an internal firewall from Fortinet at the same time as the external firewall. Adding the internal firewall has allowed us to streamline our monitoring and management and get more protection while utilizing less of our security staffs’ time.

Fortinet has earned our trust. You have vendors, and you have partners. A vendor simply supplies a product, and that might be okay. But a partner has a future vision of where the technology is going and a road map to get there. A partner understands your mission and is focused on meeting all of your needs.


Read more about Fortinet cybersecurity solutions for healthcare. 

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