Risk
1/7/2013
01:07 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Healthcare Settlement Highlights Risk Analysis, Encryption Importance

HIPAA breach settlement proves size doesn’t matter when failing to safeguard sensitive patient information.

 7 Big Data Solutions Try To Reshape Healthcare
7 Big Data Solutions Try To Reshape Healthcare
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced the first HIPAA breach settlement involving fewer than 500 patients. The Hospice of North Idaho (HONI) agreed to pay $50,000 after an investigation found the organization had violated the HIPAA security rule. HHS' Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began its investigation after HONI reported an unencrypted laptop containing electronic personal health information on 441 people was stolen in June 2010.

During the course of its investigation, OCR found HONI failed to conduct a risk analysis to protect personal health information throughout the organization, according to an HHS statement. In addition, the hospice didn't have "in place policies or procedures to address mobile device security, as required by the HIPAA security rule," the statement said. However, since the 2010 theft, the organization "has taken extensive additional steps to improve their HIPAA privacy and security compliance program."

OCR director Leon Rodriguez said in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare that since the settlement was the first of its kind, he hopes it draws attention to OCR's overall monetary enforcement program, which "effectively delivers the message to the healthcare industry that we take privacy and security seriously," he said. "We're willing to work with providers and provide technical assistance to provide clear guidance and work with them on how to best provide education. But, at the same time, enforcement is now a reality throughout the industry."

[ To see how patient engagement can help transform medical care, check out 5 Healthcare Tools To Boost Patient Involvement. ]

Rodriguez added the settlement doesn't reflect a newfound focus on small breach reports on behalf of OCR. "Generally, we identify monetary enforcement cases by looking at situations we become aware of after a long-standing pattern of systematic non-compliance that correlates with the risk of the breach, not necessarily the breach itself," he said. "That's what brings out attention to a provider; it's more of what we see in terms of behavior of the provider once we look."

In regard to HONI, Rodriguez said two main issues came to light throughout the investigation. For starters, he said, the organization had failed to encrypt the device. "Lack of encryption is what's called an addressable requirement; it's a requirement but one that can be satisfied by applying a credible alternative ... [A provider] can do just as well with strong security or password protection."

The second issue, he added, was failure to conduct a risk analysis. According to Rodriquez, all organizations need to look at business processes and places where personal health information is stored, and take steps to mitigate risks of a breach. An inadequate risk analysis is a "global issue" among organizations, he said. Additionally OCR has found that, although there are alternatives to encryption, like HONI many organizations will either encrypt or "not do anything at all," he said. "In my semi-educated hypothesis about that, a lot of providers find at the end of the day that encryption is the safest and most cost-effective thing they can do to protect the information," he said.

A new educational initiative launched by HHS in December highlights other practical ways to protect patient data. The initiative, called "Mobile Devices: Know the Risks. Take the Steps. Protect and Secure Health Information," involves a set of tools providers and organizations can access online. Videos, fact sheets and posters that promote best practices to safeguard information are available for download.

Tech spending is looking up, but IT must focus more on customers and less on internal systems. Also in the new, all-digital Outlook 2013 issue of InformationWeek: Five painless rules for encryption. (Free registration required.)

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
jaysimmons
50%
50%
jaysimmons,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/15/2013 | 6:01:16 AM
re: Healthcare Settlement Highlights Risk Analysis, Encryption Importance
I never like to see health organizations fined by the HHS, although in some cases it's warranted. Hopefully these fines will be enough to have other organizations seriously reconsider their encryption/security policies and take steps to improve the security compliance.

Jay Simmons
Information Week Contributor
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading December Tech Digest
Experts weigh in on the pros and cons of end-user security training.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-5426
Published: 2014-11-27
MatrikonOPC OPC Server for DNP3 1.2.3 and earlier allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (unhandled exception and DNP3 process crash) via a crafted message.

CVE-2014-2037
Published: 2014-11-26
Openswan 2.6.40 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (NULL pointer dereference and IKE daemon restart) via IKEv2 packets that lack expected payloads. NOTE: this vulnerability exists because of an incomplete fix for CVE 2013-6466.

CVE-2014-6609
Published: 2014-11-26
The res_pjsip_pubsub module in Asterisk Open Source 12.x before 12.5.1 allows remote authenticated users to cause a denial of service (crash) via crafted headers in a SIP SUBSCRIBE request for an event package.

CVE-2014-6610
Published: 2014-11-26
Asterisk Open Source 11.x before 11.12.1 and 12.x before 12.5.1 and Certified Asterisk 11.6 before 11.6-cert6, when using the res_fax_spandsp module, allows remote authenticated users to cause a denial of service (crash) via an out of call message, which is not properly handled in the ReceiveFax dia...

CVE-2014-7141
Published: 2014-11-26
The pinger in Squid 3.x before 3.4.8 allows remote attackers to obtain sensitive information or cause a denial of service (out-of-bounds read and crash) via a crafted type in an (1) ICMP or (2) ICMP6 packet.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Now that the holiday season is about to begin both online and in stores, will this be yet another season of nonstop gifting to cybercriminals?