How To Prevent Healthcare Data Breaches

Healthcare is the most targeted industry when it comes to cyber crimes like data breach attacks, especially involving the privacy of data. It is anticipated that the industry will continue to be a soft target for it is a treasure trove of sensitive and personal data.

The industry holds a large amount of highly sensitive patient information that includes the date of birth, social security number, phone numbers, email id, addresses all of which can be used for stealing a person’s identity. Healthcare information is easy to exploit and breach. With the stolen healthcare information, the hackers leverage the opportunity to extort money from healthcare organizations that are constantly under the tremendous pressure of protecting patient information.

For these reasons, organizations must implement strong security measures to prevent incidents of data breaches. So, today we want to share some a guidelines for organizations to follow if they wish to prevent data breaches. Following these tips will surely help an organization strengthen its defense against the growing cyber threats. 

Tips to Prevent Data Breaches In The Healthcare Industry 

Preventing security and data breaches in the industry is imperative for healthcare organizations. Although it may be challenging, yet it is worth the time, money, and efforts invested in achieving it. While implementing US Dept. of Heath HIPAA regulations and security requirements is crucial, here is some key advice that will help organizations deal with and prevent incidents of a data breach, and its repercussions (financial losses, reputational losses, legal consequences, etc). Here are some common ways of strengthening security systems and reducing the possibility of data breach incidents.

Analyze Current Security Posture:   The first advice that any experts offer an organization is to evaluate and analyze the current security posture. Besides, according to the HIPAA Security Rule, organizations must conduct an annual security risk analysis to determine all the vulnerabilities in the system. This further helps in building a strong security strategy that can help mitigate the risk.  So, ensure you conduct a regular security audit to understand the current security posture of your organization and bridge the gaps accordingly.

Evaluate the Implementation of HIPAA Rules:    HIPAA Rules are crucial for organizations as they ensure security to sensitive data and the overall infrastructure. The HIPAA Rules such as the Security Rule, Privacy Rule, Breach Notification Rule, and Omnibus Rules were broadly established to ensure organizations adopt the best industry practices to ensure the security, integrity, and confidentiality of the sensitive PHI data. So, organizations must carefully evaluate the implementation of HIPAA Rules and ensure compliance with the regulation. Compliance with HIPAA will definitely help organizations prevent data breaches to a great extent.  

Incident Response Plan:    No matter how strong and advanced security systems you set up, you can never assume to be 100% immune to an incident of a data breach. That said, organizations must be prepared for the worst and so having in place an effective Incident Response plan is essential. Creating and implementing a good Incident Response Plan helps prevent the scenarios of quick escalation of the situation when a breach or an incident occurs. Following a well-planned guideline will not just give employees the right direction in taking necessary steps and decisions to mitigate risks, but also reduce the impact on the overall business operations. 

Regularly Train & Educate Staff:   Training your staff and educating them about the common threats and risk exposure is definitely a no-brainer. Unfortunately, organizations choose to neglect this area and end up regretting about the same when an incident occurs. Training and educating staff is essential for they should be prepared when the incident occurs and respond appropriately. More than often, due to the lack of training and awareness, employees end up making the situation more complex, leading to further escalation of situations. In fact, in most cases, healthcare professionals were unaware of the cybersecurity measures and had never read the cybersecurity policies of the organizations. Not just that, it was even observed that most respondents had never had cybersecurity training and so they did not know how to handle the situation. This is why organizations must train their employees and ensure that they are aware of the regulation, different types of risk exposure, and also understand the consequences of a data breach in healthcare. The staff should also be equally trained and equipped to take measures for both preventing a threat and dealing with it when it occurs. 

Set Strong Access Controls:    With numerous people having access to multiple devices within a healthcare organization, it is important to identify the users, track their activity, and maintain records and procedures for logging in and off the devices. Organizations must ensure implementing effective access controls on systems, networks, and devices that have sensitive PHI data stored or used in them. Access to data, devices, networks, and systems must only be provided to those healthcare specialists who require it based on their roles and responsibilities. 

Network Segmentation:    Network Segmentation is worth considering for it helps segment or divides wireless networks into separate sub-networks for different user groups, such as patients, visitors, personnel, and medical devices. This way, the traffic on the network can be diluted and tracked accordingly. In other words, provide separate access to ensure the security of the network having access to PHI data. This strategy helps reduce the risk exposure and prevents the possibility of a data breach. 

Update Software & Avoid using Outdated IT infrastructure:   Hackers are always on the look for opportunities to access your systems, networks, and devices holding the PHI data. Regular software updates prevent system bugs and accordingly lowers the risk of cyber-attacks. So, organizations must regularly update their devices, and software to ensure they are equipped against any kind of cybersecurity threats. Also one must avoid using old outdated equipment, as it is more likely that hackers may target such devices to gain access. Replace outdated devices regularly to reduce the risk of medical data breaches. 

Review Third-party Agreements:   Organizations must periodically review their third-party agreements and evaluate whether or not they are updated based on the current security, privacy implementation rules. The agreements must clearly define roles, responsibilities, and obligations that the third-party vendor must adhere to when accessing, transmitting, storing, processing, or disclosing the PHI data. Since healthcare organization is the one’s ultimately responsible for compliance, they must verify that the third-party vendors that they deal with comply with HIPAA Rules. 


Modern Technology & Software Solutions:   Adopting advanced technology and software solutions can greatly help in preventing incidents of a data breach. Encryption technologies can mitigate the risk of cyber attacks. HIPAA Breach Notification Rule states that encrypted data is not unsecured, and so encrypted data loss will not constitute a breach if ever there is a data loss. So, encryption will not just secure the integrity and confidentiality of the data but also prevent a data breach and save your organization from penalties and other legal consequences.   

Destroy unused sensitive information:    Information that is no longer in use must be appropriately or rather securely destroyed. Use tools like paper shredders to destroy documents and secure the confidentiality of the information. You may even partner with a verified document destruction company that provides a certified service. This will prevent the possible scope of data misuse or data breach in the organization. 

In Conclusion 

Data Breach incidents can be quite chaotic for an organization to deal with, especially for those who are not prepared for it. One of the major challenges is dealing with the aftermath of the incident. Assuming that your organization is 100% secure and cannot be breached can be very dangerous. Incidents of data breach never hit with advance notice or nor can it be predicted.

So, it is best for organizations to be prepared and well-equipped for dealing with the worst. This is where and when an Incident Response Plan comes into play. Eliminating the risk of cyber-attacks is not really enough and so, we strongly recommend all healthcare organizations to not just follow the HIPAA Rules but also be prepared for unforeseen events or incidents with a well-planned Incident Response Plan.

 Narendra Sahoo is Director of  VISTA InfoSec

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