How to Protect ePHI in the Cloud

Cloud computing offers many benefits for organizations, such as increased agility, productivity, and reduced costs. The issue is that any healthcare organization that relies on the cloud needs to ensure that Electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI) is secure in the cloud, too.

Healthcare businesses are often hesitant to embrace the cloud for fear of HIPAA violations, but the good news is that you can use the cloud and still remain within the HIPAA rules — you just need the right setup.

The cloud makes ePHI readily available, but that availability is a double-edged sword, as you need to be able to protect ePHI in the cloud while also meeting the industry’s increased ePHI sharing demands. Clinicians and patients must be able to share data, but they must be able to do so securely. Follow these tips to keep your ePHI as secure as possible in the cloud.

1. Sign Business Associate Agreements

Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) are a must if you rely on a third-party cloud services provider, as most healthcare organizations do. Since cloud vendors have access to ePHI, HIPAA categorizes them as business associates.

Always sign a BAA with your cloud vendor. If your vendor fails to protect ePHI, the BAA is a legally binding agreement that gives customers assurance that their cloud infrastructure has the appropriate safeguards to meet HIPAA compliance standards. This is why so many healthcare organizations go with healthcare-specific cloud providers.

When in doubt, ensure you’re working with a cloud vendor that’s well-versed in HIPAA and willing to sign a BAA. Keep in mind, however, that the responsibility ultimately rests with the healthcare organization to ensure continued compliance.

2. Follow the Security Rule’s Three Safeguards

HIPAA’s Security Rule requires you to lock down ePHI with administrative, technical, and physical safeguards. These are good practices for any ePHI, but you can apply them to ePHI stored in the cloud, too.

For administrative safeguards, you might need to train employees on the nuances of using ePHI in a cloud environment. Technical safeguards include using end-to-end encryption on all ePHI through a secure patient and provider portal. Physical safeguards for the cloud can include locking your server room.

3. Install Multi-Perimeter Firewalls

Firewalls help you monitor and block suspicious activity on your network. But just one firewall isn’t enough to protect ePHI in the cloud. Today’s clinicians need to share and access ePHI outside the standard firewall.

It’s best practice to install a multi-perimeter firewall around your ePHI. This forms a stronger web of protection for your network in different places, which can make it easier to mitigate the damage if an attacker breaches the cloud.

Still, traditional firewalls alone aren’t sufficient to protect the growing volume of ePHI shared at endpoints beyond the firewall and at the point of care. A multi-prong approach is key, starting with gaining visibility into ePHI, where it’s located, how it’s used, and how it moves throughout your organization and beyond.

4. Always Require Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) requires proof of identity before granting a user access to the cloud. It isn’t impossible to breach, but requiring authentication or tokens makes it much more difficult for malicious parties to gain access. It might make it more of a headache for employees to log in, but any system that processes ePHI should have the benefit of MFA.

At the same time, it’s vital for clinicians to have the ability to share and access data easily, both within and outside the organization to improve patient care and satisfaction, increase productivity, and improve patient outcomes. But they must be able to share securely.

5. Have Both Onsite and Offsite Backups

The cloud is a popular way to back up ePHI, but you can’t rely on the cloud alone to back everything up. It’s important to have both onsite and offsite backups.

Offline backups are a good idea because they can completely prevent online data loss (as long as attackers don’t have access to your physical facility, that is). However, it’s important to stick with a regular backup schedule if you do offline backups. Some compliance solutions will automate backups for you, too.

6. Ensure End-to-End Encryption

Encryption scrambles your data and makes it unreadable to anyone other than authorized parties. Encryption is, by far, the best way organizations can protect ePHI in the cloud.

Even if a cyber attacker manages to gain access to encrypted ePHI, they won’t be able to interpret or use the data. HIPAA requires end-to-end encryption, which means you should never store ePHI in the cloud without it.

7. Train Employees On Cloud Security

Employee training is always a best practice for IT, but it’s crucial for securing ePHI in the cloud, too. Train your employees on ePHI best practices like:

  • Requiring strong passwords
  • Preventing password sharing
  • No accessing or sharing ePHI without authorization
  • Regularly testing employees with phishing tests

It’s important to explain why these rules are in place during training. When employees know what’s at stake and why they take cyber hygiene and ePHI protections seriously, they’re much more likely to comply.

Get Greater Peace of Mind in the Cloud

ePHI is highly sensitive data, and it’s your duty to protect patient information, regardless of where you store it. Fortunately, you don’t have to avoid using the cloud for the sake of preventing breaches. You can take advantage of the convenience of the cloud — and protect ePHI in the process — with the right setup.

Processing high volumes of ePHI across your organization can feel overwhelming. You need to know where ePHI is in the cloud so you can lock it down, and that’s where Tausight comes in. Our situational ePHI awareness solution can spot ePHI in areas other security platforms often miss, at the point of care and at every endpoint within your healthcare ecosystem.

Contact Tausight today to see how your organization can gain visibility into your ePHI so that you can keep it secure while supporting the shareability necessary in today’s information-sharing age.

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David Ting

Founder and CTO, Tausight

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