Healthcare Security Compliance: 6 Best Practices for Healthcare IT

As a healthcare organization, you’re beholden to HIPAA regulations. HIPAA has always been tricky to navigate, but in today’s digital environments, compliance can quickly become a challenge.

HIPAA compliance relies on robust healthcare cybersecurity. HIPAA’s requirements are intentionally vague, giving healthcare organizations and other covered entities the freedom to design healthcare IT to suit their unique needs and specifications. So, how should you set up your systems to better protect patients? These six best practices are a must to ensure patient privacy and compliance.

1. Take Inventory of Your Digital Assets

What does your cyber infrastructure include right now? What hardware do you own? What software runs on it? Where are all your assets, including your patients’ ePHI?

Taking inventory might seem like a daunting task, especially if you run a large hospital, but you can’t stay compliant if you don’t know what you have. And you can’t protect information if you don’t know it exists.  This is one reason HIPAA breaches are on the rise: healthcare organizations are losing track of their assets and failing to adequately secure them.

You need a running inventory of all of your digital assets. Asset management solutions will help you locate, track, maintain, and monitor all assets in your organization so you can streamline compliance.  Situational ePHI awareness can help you find and account for your patients’ personal information.

2. Monitor Your Network

Monitoring your network is a crucial component of healthcare cybersecurity, helping you identify both malicious activity and potential performance issues. For compliance purposes, you need to know what’s normal for your network.

This way, if there’s a spike in unusual activity, you know that something is amiss. You can take action more quickly to stop a potential attack before it does more damage — potentially lessening your HIPAA penalties.

Time does matter when you’re the victim of a breach, so regular network monitoring can reduce your risk.

3. Consider Physical Security

Healthcare cybersecurity focuses on digitally protecting your network, but you need physical security, too. Attackers could try to break into your office and steal hard drives containing sensitive patient data, or malicious insiders could copy ePHI onto a portable storage device such as a USB drive. If that happens, you’re at serious risk of a HIPAA violation.

The HIPAA Security Rule requires providers to invest in physical security measures like:

  • Cameras
  • Security guards
  • Keycard access to sensitive areas that store or process ePHI
  • PINs or biometric locks

Every organization is different, but HIPAA does require you to take reasonable measures to protect your physical space. Assess any physical security gaps that might make it easy for an outsider (or a malicious employee) to exfiltrate ePHI.

4. Follow the Principle of Least Privilege

HIPAA dictates that providers should only grant access to ePHI if there’s a business reason for doing so. The principle of least privilege means you don’t automatically grant all employees access to all of your systems. Instead, you secure your systems and only grant access on an as-needed basis and only to the minimum information the user requires to perform a task.

Minimize how many people have access to ePHI. Only give employees access to the information they need to perform their job duties, but not any more than what’s necessary. It’s also imperative to revoke employee access when required. For example, if an employee leaves the company, their access to all systems and data should be terminated immediately.

5. Automate Configurations

If you rely on mobile or IoT devices to serve patients, you’re likely adding a lot of endpoints to your network. If IT configures each device manually, they’re bound to slip up and misconfigure a device — which will put your organization at risk of a hack or breach.

In fact, misconfigurations are a leading cause of HIPAA breaches, so you must ensure all your devices use the correct settings.

Nobody has time to configure all the devices in your business from scratch. Using a configuration management solution can help you automatically configure all new devices and ensure that every device has the right security settings from the start.

6. Encrypt ePHI

HIPAA requires providers to protect ePHI at all times, even in the cloud. This sounds simple, but if you process ePHI on mobile devices — and you probably do — you have to ensure end-to-end encryption on all devices. This includes tablets, phones, and even USB devices.

It’s also a good idea to prohibit employees from processing patient data on their personal devices. You have no control over the security measures on these devices. Chances are good that employees will unintentionally process decrypted ePHI, which is a violation waiting to happen.

Gain ePHI Visibility with Situational ePHI Awareness

Cybercriminals don’t care if their attacks cause HIPAA penalties. As a provider, you know it’s up to you to protect your patients and your reputation with a strong cybersecurity defense. Follow these six best practices to better protect patient data and comply with HIPAA.

However, maintaining compliance isn’t always so simple. You have to identify ePHI everywhere in your organization, which is no small task — and that’s where Tausight’s Situational ePHI Awareness solution comes in. Offering a consolidated, real-time view into structured and unstructured ePHI across the healthcare continuum, including how it’s created, where it’s stored, how it’s copied or moved, who accesses it, and how it’s shared both within and outside your organization.

Tausight detects, tracks, and analyzes ePHI activity and risk in your data center and on all endpoint devices throughout the healthcare ecosystem, providing an immutable, off-site audit trail with forensic-level detail so that should your organization experience a breach, you can identify the root cause and recover quickly.

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David Ting

Founder and CTO, Tausight

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