Posted: 10 Jul. 2020 5 min. read

Data in a pandemic: Our most precious commodity

The COVID-19 pandemic comes with a daily bombardment of data. Location, number of new cases, number of tests, number of deaths, number of ICU beds, number of ventilators… curves, graphs, predictions and real-time updates and alerts. It’s a battleground of information.

Clear and accurate data on the pandemic is critical for decision and policy makers, health service providers, and the public. The vitality of access to timely and precise information is paramount in the provision of an almost daily list of decisions that have profound impact on governments, businesses and the community.

Cyber security to the healthcare sector is of paramount importance. The accuracy and protection of our data must be treated as a priority, and as we continue to provide timely and precise information to those who make significant decisions, data must be treated as a critical commodity.

Near-real-time decision making can only be achieved if data is protected in storage, transmission and use. In this digital age, shaping policy is reliant on data generated from sources such as the healthcare records of those presenting to hospitals or via tests. Now more than ever, healthcare organisations must align their thinking to realise the impact the data they collect has on future outcomes.

Preventing healthcare and pandemic related data from theft, destruction or manipulation, by criminals or foreign adversaries is part of this pursuit. Here in Australia, where we’ve seemingly had great success in minimising the impact of the pandemic, our data will be an attractive target by other countries.

As research into a vaccination progresses, information generated by medical research institutes will be valuable to foreign countries – many wishing to use it for their own benefit and perhaps some trying to hamper the development. Our institutes and researchers must ensure the information and data generated related to a vaccine or treatment is protected like a nationally critical asset, and shared by only with permission and by choice.

Healthcare organisations, governments, researchers and those who provide services to these industries can take practical steps to ensure the security of COVID-19 related data:

  • Ensuring data is backed-up frequently - this ensures that when there is an incident, data can be restored quickly and efficiently to minimise “down-time”;
  • Storing data on approved and secured infrastructure – knowing where your critical data assets are located and being able to access them when needed is paramount;
  • Transmitting data in an encrypted manner and only between secure sources – the more recipients of your data the more exposed you are, ensure only those with a genuine “need to hold” receive data; and
  • Increasing awareness to the data consumers of the importance of the data they hold – we’ve all heard that our people are our strongest and weakest link, driving a culture of accountability and responsibility will ensure the data is handled appropriately. 

We’ve much to gain by understanding our data as the precious commodity it is. As we emerge from this first wave of the pandemic, and as the value of our data generated becomes more evident, the protection of our critical information requires everyone to take a renewed and increased focus on data security.

More about the author

Ben Walker

Ben Walker

Director, Cyber Security

Ben is a Director in Deloitte’s Cyber Security practice. His expertise is in Cyber Security with Human Factor and Insider Threat strategy. Ben has experience in large scale project and portfolio management, the delivery of operational information technology, data and security services. Ben has worked in cyber security for nearly 20 years and has a background in secure Government information security. He is the lead Health Care Director for Deloitte Australia’s Cyber Risk Advisory practice.