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Why Cybersecurity is Critical to Maintaining HIPAA Compliance

Posted on August 2nd, 2021

When exploring top network security breaches, many think of the obvious: banks or large consumer institutions. However, healthcare organizations are on the rise as a top target for hackers, with the number of data breaches rising 36% in the second half of 2020. As threat tactics become more sophisticated each day, it is important that providers stay proactive by implementing proper cybersecurity measures to maintain HIPAA compliance within their organization and protect patient data.

Why does HIPAA need cybersecurity?

HIPAA helps protect sensitive patient health information including treatment details, test results, personal identification data, and demographic information from being disclosed without the patient's consent. In order to best protect a patient's personal health records, the HIPAA Security Rule specifies that covered entities must maintain protection for electronic protected health information (ePHI), and ensure that protection can defend the organization from any kind of physical, administrative, or technical breach. This can be accomplished through an effective cybersecurity strategy, but to avoid complications or breaches of confidential data, it is important to consider the following best practices:

Safeguard patient data while in transit or while at rest

All data that healthcare providers store is extremely sensitive. While only available to authorized personnel, this data is highly valuable to a hacker and can be easily accessed if not managed properly. In order to best protect this information, health systems must secure patient data while in transit and while being stored.

Both data at rest and data in transit are valuable and vulnerable to attackers. By providing quality security measures to both sources of data, we can ensure that data is secured in either state. We can best protect data at rest by encrypting sensitive files prior to storing them on a device or can even encrypt the storage device itself. The same goes for data in transit. Businesses can encrypt sensitive data before transporting it and use coded connections (HTTPS, SSL, TLS, FTPS, etc.) to protect data as it is being transferred. For example, when a confidential email is sent with test results from a lab, enterprises will use an encryption program to obscure its content. Encryption is a prominent tool used for securing data and should be implemented in every practice to better protect patients’ data and maintain HIPAA compliance.

Ensure remote care security

With millions still connecting to their healthcare providers via remote access, internal IT teams need to ensure that remote security and patient details are protected in the process. Not only must their remote technology meet HIPAA security and privacy standards, but they must also care for the diverse needs of their patients seeking extended care. It is important for providers to set clear guidelines for remote use of healthcare tools and understand how HIPAA requirements affect remote work environments.

With healthcare organizations increasingly using technology for day-to-day operations such as video conferences, data sharing platforms, and project management systems, it is especially important to be cautious of what tools can handle protected health information. For example, the free or enterprise versions of Zoom do not support HIPAA compliance. In order to use this platform for telehealth visits, providers must instead license the specialized Zoom for Healthcare solution.

Enterprises can also support remote care security by providing staff with preconfigured devices that comply with security requirements and use encrypted virtual private networks (VPNs) to protect online activity. Providers will need to access electronic health record systems while they telecommute, which poses a potential threat to businesses as employees access information through unsecured home internet connections. By implementing VPNs, providers can offer a secure and encrypted line of communication between the office network and the home network.

Protect IoMT devices from cyber attacks

Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices pose a significant challenge for many organizations. The reason being, these devices are harder to monitor and protect than other wireless tools. While healthcare continues to climb as one of the most targeted industries for cybercriminals, security teams must find a way to protect and secure them efficiently and effectively.

Some quick ways to protect IoMT devices can be by simply changing passwords or adding passwords to your network. Companies can also look to address vulnerabilities within the network, employ detection controls to better monitor network traffic, or introduce network segmentation to prevent unauthorized hackers from accessing data anywhere on the system. These, among others, can help healthcare providers stay ahead of potential attacks and aid in securing the network.

Five strategies for maintaining HIPAA compliance and cybersecurity

Patients’ health data that is sent, received, stored, or processed is highly confidential and requires strict guidelines in order to be compliant with HIPAA. Unfortunately, HIPAA compliance does not guarantee that the company will not be subject to cybersecurity breaches or attacks. In order to best protect your patients' electronic health information, you must implement additional protection measures. Here are five strategies that you can employ to maintain compliance and improve your cybersecurity posture.

1. Use firewalls

Firewalls are a great way to protect your organization and remain compliant with HIPAA regulations. Although it's a fairly simple technology, firewalls are the first line of defense for your company and serve as a fortress to protect sensitive information. Firewalls create a secure border of protection against initial attacks by controlling the network traffic entering and exiting the network. Without firewall protection, virtually any data can be pulled from your network, and any individual or program can enter it.

2. Establish a culture of security

To ensure total security across all branches, organizations must work towards creating a culture of security and knowledge that makes every employee responsible for maintaining security. This can be done by taking a leadership approach, implementing employee training, and reviewing ways to best apply security best practices today and into the future. The key to creating a sustainable culture of security is through a ‘We’re All In This Together’ mentality.

3. Limit network access

Limiting network access may seem like a simple venture. However, with the appeal of many hyper-simple network tools out there, many organizations find themselves approving outside access without even knowing. To avoid data leakage, visitors’ devices that enter the practice should not be permitted network access until they’ve been screened. Use zero trust security measures to identity verification for everyone and everything trying to access resources on your network.

4. Create disaster recovery and business continuity plans

As the saying goes, “expect the unexpected”, especially when it concerns the integrity of your business and its secure files. Companies need to develop a disaster recovery and business continuity plan that ensures staff is knowledgeable about what to do in the event of a breach and employees able to act quickly to address the scenario. This will help facilitate a smooth transition as organizations recover from attacks.

5. Backup critical data

The general rule for backing up data is to have 3 different copies stored on different forms of media. Traditionally, physical backups such as tapes and disks were considered to be more secure than storing data on the cloud. Yet in recent years, cloud storage vendors have worked with healthcare providers to support HIPAA compliant backup solutions that have become increasingly more popular within the industry. However you choose to store your data, it is important to implement staff training to ensure employees have quick reaction times, knowledge of how to access backup files, and the ability to restore data on the network.

How SecurityScorecard can help maintain HIPAA compliance

As the healthcare industry continues to rely on internet-connected technology, maintaining cybersecurity and the necessary preventative measures to remain HIPAA compliant becomes increasingly difficult. SecurityScorecard can help improve the cyberhealth of your entire ecosystem as well as identify, monitor, and manage third-party risk, all while staying alert to patient privacy and health provider infrastructure needs. We work to analyze your company's cyberhealth and assign a letter grade based on our findings. With this ‘score’, healthcare organizations gain comprehensive visibility into network and system vulnerabilities, allowing security teams to prioritize remediation next steps.

As cyberattacks continue to become more sophisticated, it is important to continuously monitor your cybersecurity posture, take control of third-party risk, and ensure compliance with regulations in order to protect sensitive health information from leaving your network.

See how SecurityScorecard Security Ratings can help your business stay ahead of cyber threats and request a demo today.

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