Cyber Security Improvements in Healthcare & Beyond: Q&A with Meg McCarthy

Cyber Security Improvements in Healthcare & Beyond: Q&A with Meg McCarthy

We are excited to have Meg McCarthy, healthcare technology leader and Aetna EVP of Operations and Technology, join our Board of Directors this week. Meg is bringing her industry expertise in technology and operations to her advisory role at vArmour, so we can best serve the cyber security needs of healthcare organizations. As we welcome Meg to our board, we spent some time to learn about her 30+ year career in healthcare, the security best practices she has implemented at Aetna, and our most pressing question… her favorite season in New England.

You started your career in healthcare when you were 16 …and have yet to leave! What keeps you in the healthcare industry? How have you seen it evolve over your career, especially as it relates to technology?

I love working with organizations that have enormous complexity. And we know healthcare is a very complex industry. I enjoy the challenge of making processes and programs much simpler, so that organizations can deliver better quality products and services to their users. My first job in a hospital at 16 was all about streamlining processes through use of technology. My job was to move patient information around the hospital, delivering it to different departments. There was nothing automated about the process at this time, and I saw a way to improve that. I helped to find a way to automate much of the information transfer. And from that point on, I’ve never lacked opportunities to jump in and change or challenge the healthcare industry.

Today is an exciting time to be a leader in the healthcare industry – the role of the consumer, the impact of mobile technology, and the cultural shifts as we embrace social media are requiring the healthcare industry to reinvent itself. Knowledge of technology and a forward- thinking perspective will continue to be important tools in innovating the industry to increase efficiencies, reduce complexities and costs, and improve care.

Those are certainly key to operating in a dynamic industry, like healthcare. What are some best practices that you have instituted for cyber security at Aetna that you think would be applicable to other verticals as well?

There are several that could apply to nearly any industry. We --

  1. Instituted a Security Steering Committee for governance over our security programs with senior business leaders. The program educates these leaders on cyber security trends, while also prioritizing the allocation of resources to the program. 
  2. Have an ongoing, company-wide security education and awareness program.
  3. Created a cyber security intelligence team that gathers external cyber intelligence and searches for traces of cyber-criminal activity.
  4. Launched a program for the protection, elimination and remediation of the use of Social Security numbers as a unique identifier for member data within our enterprise.
  5. Stay informed about early stage technology companies that have potential game-changing capabilities in cyber security and beyond. 
  6. Embed cyber security controls into core IT and business management practices. Examples of what we’ve done include:
    • Software security tools and controls for developers
    • Use of security settings in templates to prevent vulnerabilities from being exploited
    • Email gateway controls to filter potential phishing emails and block email from newly registered domains
    • Daily threat and vulnerability assessment and management to track a cyber-risk score for Aetna and adjust controls accordingly.

Those are some powerful security changes that every organization can learn from and adopt. Before we end, let’s get to know you a bit better, Meg -- you’re a New England native --- what’s your favorite season there and why?

While all the seasons in New England are beautiful – the stunning fall season and color we’re experiencing now, the beauty of a winter snowfall, and the energy every spring brings, I can say without a doubt, my favorite season is summer. I live on Cape Cod and have the privilege of looking out my window at the Atlantic Ocean….and while it’s breath-taking all year round, it is most beautiful in the summer. Also, my favorite activities are best done in the summer --- boating, rowing, fast walking, dancing and walking on the beach. And my very favorite holiday is the 4th of July. So, it’s got to be summer!