Security officer Wendy Roodhooft reads cybersecurity books while eating her breakfast cereal. Her level of commitment is just one of the reasons the AZ Vesalius board and ICT Director Peter Laenen chose her to lead the team, and bring to life their vision for cybersecurity at the hospital.
The timing was right because network and endpoint security at this leading Belgian hospital needed critical care. Overlapping siloed security platforms absorbed resources and obscured security visibility. Thousands of Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices were either unprotected or undiscovered. This, in turn, made it harder to safeguard patient data that resided on these critical medical devices, prevent cyberattacks, and drive a modern, efficient security strategy.
AZ Vesalius hospital is named after the 16th-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius, who is commonly considered the founder of modern human anatomy. His legacy lives on in this state-of-the-art, multidisciplinary Belgian hospital, which has 326 beds, 900 staff, and a catchment population of 100,000 people.
Patient care and everyday administrative services are underpinned by 250 servers, more than 1,000 endpoints, and several thousand IoMT and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Staff, contractors, and other third-party healthcare providers regularly connect remotely to the network.
“Before Palo Alto Networks, we struggled with cybersecurity,” Wendy explains. “Our old Stormshield firewalls, for example, were not application-aware and lacked VLAN capability. One person spent three hours a day manually examining logs. And there was always the risk that a threat may be missed.”
Wendy outlines another challenge they faced – the sheer volume of security solutions. “We balanced multiple point security products. It’s very hard to manage disparate platforms effectively, any one of which could present a different attack path.”
Up to 3,000 IoMT and IoT devices were also at risk. MRI scanners, bedside monitors, echo devices, X-ray machines, security door devices, and more were often unprotected or undiscovered.
Wendy worked with the talented AZ Vesalius teams to reimagine cybersecurity with the support of ICT Director Peter Laenen and the board. “I wanted to change everything, replacing fragmentation with a single, best-of-breed platform. Unification would eliminate complexity, strengthen our cybersecurity, and streamline security management,” she says.
The platform would be required to:
It didn’t take long for AZ Vesalius to identify the right security partner. “We trusted Palo Alto Networks from the start. Almost every authoritative review positions their portfolio as best-in-class; everything connects in a single security ecosystem; and the technologies – especially IoMT – are proven in healthcare,” says Wendy.
A pair of high availability, ML-Powered Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs) in each data centre provide complete visibility and control over the medical network. More than 50 VLANS have also been created to partition hospital services, servers, and medical devices based on the sensitivity of the data and the risk if that data is exposed.
“If someone using a laboratory workstation inserts a USB stick, we know immediately,” says Wendy. “With different areas of the hospital segmented, security can be applied easily without relaxing policies universally or implementing costly temporary measures.”
A connected suite of CDSS is natively integrated with the NGFWs to add an additional layer of security to medical devices, users, applications, and data. This includes Threat Prevention, WildFire, URL Filtering, GlobalProtect, and DNS Security.
It also includes an IoT Security service which delivered huge value immediately, says Wendy: “Within 24 hours of switching the service on, we could see all 3,000 medical and IoT devices connected to the network. We identified vulnerable MRI scanners, cameras, and other equipment that used standard passwords. We also discovered an old camera on the roof, used for birdwatching, that we didn’t even know existed!”
Cortex XDR provides unified detection, investigation, automation, and response. It eliminates blind spots by integrating Vesalius’ 1,000+ managed endpoints and network data with logs and alerts to detect attacks and simplify investigations. It also profiles hospital user and endpoint behaviour with machine learning to find anomalies that could lead to attacks.
“People jokingly call me ‘Big Sister’ now as we’re monitoring data from so many sources,” says Wendy. “We are tracking threats across any hospital source or location, automating containment, and closing gaps for future prevention.”
AZ Vesalius hospital is now testing the Cortex XSOAR security orchestration, automation, and response platform to integrate case management, collaboration, and threat intelligence management across the incident lifecycle. “The playbooks are invaluable, automating the response and improving investigation quality. In time, we may deploy Cortex XSOAR in a managed SOC,” Wendy says.
AZ Vesalius’ connected security portfolio ensures the best possible patient care, protecting patient safety and privacy. Resilient network and endpoint security prevent patient data compromise, improve uptime, and reduce security threats.
Wendy explains: “The hospital is aiming for NIST framework compliance. By providing full visibility into traffic and preventing cyberattacks, Palo Alto Networks moves us a step closer to NIST compliance and ISO 27001 compliance.”
The hospital can connect next-generation scanners, monitors, and other medical intervention technologies to the network, confident they will operate securely and reliably. As noted earlier, IoT Security identified and resolved vulnerable, guessable passwords previously used on devices, optimising their uptime.
“IoMT devices commonly run on legacy operating systems, are difficult to patch, or lack encryption,” says Wendy. “Palo Alto Networks gives us full control and visibility, protecting every medical device on our network.”
Wendy and her team now work faster and smarter. For example, Cortex XDR automation has reduced the number of security alerts by 50%, leaving the person who previously spent three hours per day monitoring logs free to focus on more strategic tasks.
She concludes, “We have moved from a suite of unreliable, siloed platforms to a single, modern platform. It’s like switching from a beaten-up old car to a new sports car,” says Wendy.