Qatar’s QCRI initiates new cybersecurity solutions in healthcare sector

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Qatar Computer Research Institute (QCRI), a unit of Hamad Bin Khalifa University, has initiated several innovative solutions to combat cyberattacks, especially on the healthcare systems.

Amid the global healthcare crisis, cyberattacks on healthcare systems have increased immensely with cybercriminals initiating financial to privacy threats, according to Dr. Ahmed Elmagarmid, founding executive director, QCRI.

Further Dr. Elmagarmid added that there is no silver bullet for the growing global cybersecurity challenges. Instead, the authorities must analyze the unique issues in the healthcare systems and adapt existing solutions or develop new ones to address each of them.

QCRI has initiated new tools to address the issue of cybersecurity. The guilt-by-association tool developed by the institute is used to identify suspicious domains or predict malicious attacks by analyzing the previous movements of the domain address.

The second solution built by QCRI is aimed to utilize enterprise data logs to identify dormant attackers and amplify low attack signals within the enterprise network. The third invention gives recommendations to remove the attack sources based on the type of hosting infrastructure.

QCRI has also developed a new technology that identifies unwanted emails solely from its headers and enterprise communication patterns. The solution is valuable when end-to-end email encryption is used, which restricts access to the full email content to the sender and receiver alone.

The Doha-based institution has faced many challenges in bringing next-generation healthcare solutions in its ongoing project SIHA (System for Integrated Health Analytics) which is developed in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation, Sidra Medicine, and others. SIHA (health in Arabic) combines data from wearables, smart health IoT devices, and medical devices with other sources to deliver predictive analytics using machine learning.

Dr.Faisal Farooq, principal scientist and head of the Centre for Digital Health and Precision Medicine, QCRI, compared SIHA with typical enterprise health systems, “Systems like SIHA are connected to consumer devices over potentially multiple heterogeneous and open networks, making them vulnerable to cyberattacks and exposing protected health information in the public domain. To safeguard against this, QCRI deploys data encryption techniques, multilevel authentication mechanisms, and adherence to the stringent security standards of the health domain.”

The health sector has unique vulnerabilities and it has a wide attack surface due to the number of diverse interacting entities, the fast adoption of the IoT and remote connectivity.

Dr. Ahmed Elmagarmid
Dr. Ahmed Elmagarmid
Executive Director

“The zero-trust model adopted by Qatar, a holistic approach in cybersecurity involving several technologies and processes through which access to all resources can be authenticated and verified. The method combines the least privilege model and access control, with logging and inspecting all activities performed using security analytics.”

Dr. Issa M Khalil, the principal scientist, QCRI, noted, “I agree that the solution to solving the problem of attack attribution is technical, but novel technical solutions have to go hand in hand with stakeholder collaborations, both nationally and internationally.”

“Ecosystems like those driving SIHA present unique security and privacy challenges that require further research and standardization of protocols. It is impossible to ensure security attacks never happen in healthcare systems. What’s important is how we respond to such attacks. Healthcare systems need to be constantly monitored, so attacks can be detected on time and their impact mitigated,” Dr. Elmagarmid stated.