6 Things You Need To Know About PHI Cyber Security

Any healthcare business that processes protected health information (PHI) has to follow strict guidelines to safeguard that information. Since the majority of PHI is processed electronically (ePHI), healthcare providers need plans for protecting PHI online, too.

With ePHI breaches rapidly rising, it’s never been more important for providers to protect patient information. But healthcare providers are busy serving patients; they aren’t cybersecurity experts. If you’re trying to protect and secure PHI and ePHI, follow these six best practices to strengthen PHI cybersecurity.

1. Create Breach Response Playbooks

How will your organization respond to a PHI security breach? HIPAA has specific breach reporting requirements, but they don’t touch on the cybersecurity to-dos that need to happen in the wake of a breach.

Your cybersecurity team needs to find the source of the breach by conducting a PHI breach risk assessment. For example, attackers frequently breach PHI through unpatched software on internet-connected blood pressure monitors. Since your organization likely has many of these devices, you need to fix all these security gaps in your organization. Otherwise, you’ll continue experiencing breaches in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. Don’t forget to develop a plan that includes reporting the PHI breach to the appropriate parties under the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule.

2. Patch and Update All Software and Firmware

Software providers push out updates and patches for known vulnerabilities. Without these updates, you’ll have gaps in your cybersecurity that attackers can exploit to steal PHI. That’s why every healthcare provider needs to regularly update their software and firmware.

It’s your responsibility to make sure all software is up-to-date and secure. While some IT solutions will push these updates for you, it’s still a good idea to double-check that the updates went through. Ask your IT team to track which software is and isn’t updated. Create a schedule for manually checking your software and firmware for updates.

3. Monitor Business Associates

Healthcare organizations often rely on business associates for billing, accounting, IT, and more. However, sharing PHI with vendors can open you up to PHI breaches. Signing a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with a vendor will hold them accountable to HIPAA, but you still need to do your due diligence to keep patient data safe.

Ask all potential vendors about their cybersecurity practices. If they’re truly HIPAA-compliant, they should be able to share their PHI cybersecurity practices with you.

As a best practice, minimize vendors’ access to PHI as much as possible. For example, an accountant doesn’t need access to a patient’s medical chart to bill them for services. Always revoke access if you discontinue services with a vendor, too.

4. Follow Strict Access Management Practices

Thirty-four percent of PHI breaches happen due to unauthorized access. Follow access management best practices to prevent unauthorized access and protect PHI.

Per HIPAA, employees must use unique logins for all systems that contain PHI, so shared passwords are never allowed. It’s also a best practice to require your team to use strong passwords and change their passwords frequently. Solutions like LastPass or 1Password can help employees generate complex passwords and securely store them.

Other popular access control practices include:

  • Revoking access when employees leave the organization
  • Double-checking that the people with admin access still need admin access
  • Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) on all systems that contain PHI
  • Requiring key card access, hiring security guards, and installing cameras to ensure physical security

5. Conduct Monthly Cybersecurity Training

Human beings are always the weakest link in any business’s cybersecurity plan. HIPAA requires you to train employees on HIPAA requirements, which also includes training on cybersecurity best practices.

Training needs to happen once a year to keep you HIPAA compliant, but that doesn’t keep PHI cybersecurity top-of-mind to your employees. It’s best to schedule monthly required cybersecurity training so your team will stay both vigilant and compliant.

6. Test Your PHI Cybersecurity

There was a 9.4% year-over-year increase in cyberattacks from March 2021 to March 2022. Plus, the cost of cyberattacks has increased by 41.6% since 2020. So not only are cyberattacks more common, but they’re also becoming more expensive.

Since the stakes are so high, it’s critical to test the effectiveness of your PHI cybersecurity policies. Penetration testing will tell you what’s working and identify areas where you need to strengthen security.

Get Greater Visibility into Your PHI

Health organizations can’t risk the penalties that come with PHI breaches. Attacks are on the rise, and now is the time to invest in healthcare cybersecurity to prevent PHI cyberattacks. Follow these six best practices to ensure PHI cybersecurity at all times.

Of course, you can’t protect PHI if you don’t know where it exists. Tausight’s AI-powered ePHI security intelligence solution provides a consolidated, real-time view into both structured and unstructured PHI throughout the healthcare ecosystem, analyzing PHI activity and risk across all endpoints. Contact us today to see how ePHI security intelligence can help your organization bolster PHI cybersecurity while supporting the need to share PHI securely.

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David Ting

Founder and CTO, Tausight

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