Wireless Security Targets Compliance & Convenience

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Kurt Induni, network services manager, oversees the Network Operations Center at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans.Healthcare providers are mobile and steadily becoming even more so. Use of wireless devices is growing, from personal handhelds to medical devices that link to wireless networks. An industry study published by The FocalPoint Group estimates an impressive growth rate of the wireless technology market in healthcare, from $1.8 billion in 2005 to more than $7 billion in 2010. Ensuring secure access and efficient management is essential.

Unique needs

The healthcare industry provides unique dilemmas to IT professionals. “We serve hundreds of masters who have very different ways of doing business,” says Kurt Induni, network services manager of Ochsner Health System in New Orleans. As manager of an enterprise information systems shop, Induni set the standard of security to protect information and protect access to information.

Not only are there wide-ranging wireless needs in healthcare, the industry has “really had to come of age with security,” he says. “It’s probably a high priority on every network manager’s list.” Securing a wireless network sometimes is easier than a wired network. Induni can more easily police the wireless network through back-end management, while the wired network is still policed by users through their identification and passwords.

Ochsner went wireless in 1996 with an emergency department pilot project to do bedside registration for patients who came in without a friend or family member. With a 500-bed hospital and 600-physician clinic in one complex, “our wireless needs quickly grew from that point forward,” says Induni. The problem with keeping up, however, was that each of more than 500 autonomous access points required manual configuration, monitoring and upgrading. “That made any kind of dynamic changes to the wireless network very tedious and a long process.”

In fact, the wireless network “stayed as static as we could possibly keep it, mainly because of resources.” Two years ago, Induni implemented solutions from Cisco (formerly Airespace): the Cisco WiSM (Wireless Service Module) housed in Cisco 6509 Switches, Cisco WCS (Wireless Control System) to provide the centralized management and the Cisco 2700 location appliance to provide graphical location capability. Currently, Ochsner has 570 Cisco 1200 access points. This allows Induni to protect the overall security of the enterprise network, make dynamic changes to the entire enterprise and provide wireless services that before were very resource intensive. For example, he recently got a call to update 38 personal digital assistants (PDAs). To do so, he simply built a private network just for those devices. Since converting to a controller, updating the entire network takes “a matter of minutes.”

You can only do so much

Cook Children’s Health Care System in Chicago has seen growth in both personal and medical devices that use wireless networking, says Ross Jones, manager of telecom/networking, information services. When the organization installed wireless networking almost five years ago, Jones brought in NEC — already his network vendor. “We currently have several different wireless networks and we tend to segregate the traffic by the type of network that they’re on,” he says. That includes charting in the HIS, voice traffic, clinical monitoring and business operations.

You can only do so much to secure wireless networks, Jones points out. “When we were building the network here, we realized we were going to be going out over the air. If someone really knows what they’re doing, they can intercept what’s going through the air.” To prevent that, Jones has made certain activities unavailable via wireless in different parts of the building. And just because information is intercepted, that doesn’t mean it can be read. Understand where your signals are going, he says. Don’t broadcast your service set identifiers — part of the way that a computer finds the network that it should be using. “Some people say it’s such a weak thing that it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t keep the bad guys away, but if someone is trolling for a network, they’ll find somebody else before you and there’s value in that.”

Jones has configured his system so that wireless devices don’t connect to just any network, only his. “We don’t want laptops straying off.” Many personal wireless devices, such as laptops, come with their own security built in. However, that may be the only product that supports that type of security. “We haven’t found that to give us the flexibility