Paul Cunningham, chief information security officer (CISO) at the Department of Veterans (VA), explained this week how the agency is addressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities to protect its users and their health care and financial data as the agency has turned increasingly to providing telehealth services for veterans.

The use of telehealth services for veterans has increased exponentially at the VA since the start of the pandemic, leading the agency to double its bandwidth, Cunningham explained during an October 7 cybersecurity event organized by ACT-IAC.

Telehealth services have been among a relatively new and well-received wave of tech-enabled services for veterans, the agency CISO said.

“We had to step up our game because handling [this need] across the whole nation was a challenge for us. We worked with our business partners to expand our bandwidth and provide a necessary service,” Cunningham said.

At the same time, cybersecurity is an enduring risk factor for health care and financial data. Data breaches are costly and disruptive, and the health and financial sectors face unique challenges in building resilience against cybersecurity risks.

To address cyber vulnerabilities, Cunningham emphasized that “Federal agencies, particularly those dealing with personal health and finance data, need to understand best practices and where the agency can implement them.”

Notwithstanding the big spike in telehealth service use and popularity, and the security risks that presents, the agency is not abandoning its tried and true cybersecurity practices that existed before the pandemic. Cunningham emphasized that before implementing any new cybersecurity practices, the agency must understand what they bring before discarding legacy practices that continue to work.

Cunningham also explained the importance of security in information sharing, saying, “to ensure the security of our users’ data, we need to reaffirm our efforts to ensure effective information sharing among agencies and between agencies and cloud service providers.”

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.