In today’s health IT environment, many healthcare facilities are under pressure to improve security in order to provide greater protection for electronic protected health information (ePHI) and improve their compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). One area that can help them achieve these goals is their local area network (LAN). This approach has a proven track record of improving security for military agencies.
Healthcare facilities and military agencies alike have historically relied on copper-based LANs. However, copper is prone to electromagnetic interference and is easy to tap, making it insecure for organizations where data security is top priority. For this reason, many military agencies such as U.S. Army, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army Reserves and the U.S. Marines have turned to fiber-based optical LAN as a means to improve the defensibility of the LAN and to meet the demands of a modern high-performance LAN in a more secure manner. Now, healthcare facilities are moving forward with the same evolutionary architecture that uses fiber optic cabling and passive optical LAN. This is a result of three key factors:
- Better security of optical cabling compared to copper cabling
- Elimination of vulnerable access points
- Secure processes and polices
Optical cabling is inherently more secure than copper cabling. Prioritizing fiber cabling in a healthcare facility’s LAN infrastructure can make significant contributions to overall security. With fiber, there is no crosstalk. Fiber is not susceptible nor does it introduce electromagnetic interference (EMI), radio frequency interference (RFI), or electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The opposite is true of copper cabling that allows radiate emissions that can be eavesdropped without physical access. No one can “listen to” fiber from any distance and one would need to physically access fiber to gain entry to fiber-based communications. Physically tapping fiber is tremendously difficult taking into consideration the expertise and equipment that could be attempted.
Elimination of mid-span electronics reduces network complexity and removes vulnerable access points. Passive optical LAN architectures provide tremendous improvements in the design of healthcare LANs. A passive optical LAN can span for 12.5 miles (copper LANs only span for 300 feet), thus eliminating mid-span switching electronics located in telecom rooms. This means that healthcare facilities can reduce or even eliminate telecom rooms with their associated complexity and vulnerable access points that normally are need to be positioned every 300 feet. As for passive optical LAN, the deep network devices (optical network terminals or ONTs) store neither configuration information nor user information nor do they have physical management access, thus making them very secure.
Centralized intelligences and management secure processes and polices. Instead of managing legacy architectures locally, at the switch and at the telecom room, a more secure method for healthcare IT pros is to use a centralized element management interface for the passive optical LAN. Role-based access for users is established through strict authentication and authorization that establish privileges for the IT pros accessing the network. Consistent security policies and procedures are managed from this secure centralized location as well. Centralized intelligences and management reduces human errors which results in better security when performing everyday network configuration changes.
While the military has been leveraging passive optical LAN technology for better security for years, now is the time for healthcare facilities to do the same. In the age when patient data and network security are a key concern, healthcare facilities must evaluate their network infrastructure. By replacing their copper infrastructures with fiber, they gain an infrastructure that provides unmatched security and enables them to handle ePHI and meet or even exceed HIPAA criteria.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi