Commentary: While last spring’s notorious Sony hack may have implied that the biggest targets are the most vulnerable, any organization can be a victim—and, perhaps surprisingly, an unwitting perpetrator.

IT infrastructure companies may be aware of risk as a matter of course, but they aren’t exempt from the rules of the game and in light of their special position in the information security ecosystem, attacks directed their way can be enormously consequential.

Deploying appropriate security protections, with technologies such as clustered firewalls and intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), doesn’t come cheap. The fact is, many of the smaller players in the hosting business can’t and don’t make those investments.

At the other end of the hosting spectrum, one of the industry’s largest providers was recently attacking a mid-range player from thousands of servers each night, and the irony was that the big provider’s security detail couldn’t even see the ongoing attack emanating from its own environment. That raises the question—if that provider couldn’t discern the attacks going out, can they see them coming in?

It’s not alarmist to recognize that these scenarios have become distressingly common. Organizations—provider and user alike—aren’t defenseless, but there’s no longer an excuse for being caught napping.

As important consumers of IT services, healthcare organizations must do due diligence within their own organizations and with the providers they retain, especially given the exacting requirements that HIPAA has established. What follows are suggestions to boost security related to IT provider services:

*Treat security as a process, not an event. Achieving some measure of security requires a specific mindset that healthcare providers need to understand and then internalize. It doesn’t matter if you’re neighborhood clinic or a metropolitan hospital—every healthcare organization is more and less secure over time, because the nature of cyber attacks constantly evolves. The process of security means adjusting and learning accordingly. A head-in-the-sand approach ensures that an organization will become less secure.

*If your policy isn’t dynamic, you don’t have one. Security isn’t like filling out a loan application; it’s not a matter of checking boxes and moving on. The dynamic extends to asking questions—lots of them. Where are threats coming from? Are we looking at our environment in a holistic manner? Are we conducting a quarterly analysis of what’s secure, what’s not, what could be more secure, and then implementing a framework for how to deal with it?

*Beware the unwitting perpetrator. Like crimes in the non-virtual world, Denial of Service attacks and cyber hacks rarely come with calling cards. Those with ill intent find honeypots of oblivious organizations they can commandeer easily, with a single password. In the incident referenced earlier, the mega-provider didn’t even have an abuse team. So, at the very least, healthcare providers need to insist that their hosting company assign a unique password to every server—and have an abuse team at the ready, just in case.

*Patching is for sweaters and tires, not firewalls. Piecemeal approaches to security simply don’t work. Patching a hole or fixing a bug, and moving on—that’s hardly the stuff of which effective security policies are made. Because security is a moving target, scattershot repairs ignore the hundreds or even thousands of points of vulnerability that a policy of ongoing monitoring can help mitigate.

*The perfect is the enemy of the good. Perfection in countering cyber attacks is as elusive here as it is in any other endeavor. Even so, that can’t be an argument for complacency or anything less than vigilance backed up by state-of-the-art technology. Consider a strategic approach to security as a form of corporate physical fitness. Sitting ducks, after all, can’t move nearly as swiftly as hawks.

It was William Osler, the 19th Century physician who co-founded Johns Hopkins, who said, “Security can only be achieved through constant change, adapting old ideas that have outlived their usefulness to current facts.” Where IaaS is concerned, Osler could hardly have been more prescient.

Adam Stern is the founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual, a cloud hosting provider.

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