Risk
9/26/2011
11:10 AM
50%
50%

Integrated Security Reduces Health IT Data Breaches

PricewaterhouseCoopers finds fewer breaches in healthcare organizations that have integrated privacy and security compliance efforts.

Health IT Boosts Patient Care, Safety
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Health IT Boosts Patient Care, Safety
Barely half of healthcare organizations have integrated privacy and security procedures, but those that do have reduced the frequency of data breaches. And as health information exchange and data mining continue to grow, so does the imperative to protect sensitive information, a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) suggests.

"Healthcare organizations that had used an integrated approach had experienced 10% fewer privacy and security incidents in the past two years," James Koenig, director and co-leader of PwC's health information privacy and security practice, explained to InformationWeek Healthcare.

Privacy historically has been the domain of the compliance department and security the responsibility of IT. "The HIPAA privacy and security rules only reinforced those silos," Koenig said.

But the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the health IT portion of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, strengthened privacy and security requirements, adding the provision that healthcare entities notify people potentially affected by breaches, regardless of whether the information was in electronic form or not. HITECH also created the Meaningful Use incentive program to encourage adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchange.

[Which healthcare organizations came out ahead in the InformationWeek 500 competition? See 10 Healthcare IT Innovators: InformationWeek 500.]

These changes have led to larger databases and increased data sharing--as well as more active enforcement of HIPAA by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS reported this month that the number of people notified that they had been affected by healthcare data breaches more than doubled in 2010.

Indeed, more than 70% of respondents to the PwC survey of 600 U.S. healthcare executives said they have sharpened their focus on privacy and security as a result of recent enforcement activity.

Still, threats are changing, and the healthcare industry may not be keeping up. In the report, "Old Data Learns New Tricks: Managing Patient Privacy And Security On A New Data-Sharing Playground," PwC said that just 58% of healthcare providers and 41% of insurers surveyed said that their employee privacy training includes education on appropriate uses of EHRs. "Sometimes the race for [stimulus] funds gets a little ahead of privacy and security," Koenig said.

And, Koenig added, three-quarters of those surveyed said they planned on using data in new ways, but fewer than half have addressed the privacy and security issues that these secondary uses raise.

Plenty of organizations also are looking for threats in the wrong places. Slightly more than half of those organizations surveyed reported at least one privacy or security-related issue in the past two years. More than any other threat, providers cited improper use of protected health information by people inside the organization.

"Historically, people have thought of outside threats," namely hackers, Koenig said. "Most breaches are not the result of IT hackers, but rather reflect the increase in the risks of the knowledgeable insider related to identity theft and simple human error--loss of a computer or device, lack of knowledge, or unintended unauthorized disclosure."

Another growing risk is identity theft; 36% of providers reported seeing patients trying to obtain services under someone else's name or identification.

The new HITECH provisions call for greater attention to agreements with business associates, as defined by HIPAA. More than half of the 288 breaches reported to OCR at the time of the PwC report involved data transfer with business associates, but only a third of organizations that exchanged data externally had signed data-sharing agreements with all participants, a finding that was "surprisingly low," according to Koenig. He does, however, report seeing an increase in organizations conducting pre-contract assessments of business associates.

The PwC report also said that healthcare organizations need to pay attention to new technologies, such as mobile devices. The survey found that 55% of healthcare organizations have not really addressed mobile-related privacy and security issues, and less than one-quarter have examined the privacy and security implications of social media.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Tech Digest, Dec. 19, 2014
Software-defined networking can be a net plus for security. The key: Work with the network team to implement gradually, test as you go, and take the opportunity to overhaul your security strategy.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-8802
Published: 2015-01-23
The Pie Register plugin before 2.0.14 for WordPress does not properly restrict access to certain functions in pie-register.php, which allows remote attackers to (1) add a user by uploading a crafted CSV file or (2) activate a user account via a verifyit action.

CVE-2014-9623
Published: 2015-01-23
OpenStack Glance 2014.2.x through 2014.2.1, 2014.1.3, and earlier allows remote authenticated users to bypass the storage quote and cause a denial of service (disk consumption) by deleting an image in the saving state.

CVE-2014-9638
Published: 2015-01-23
oggenc in vorbis-tools 1.4.0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (divide-by-zero error and crash) via a WAV file with the number of channels set to zero.

CVE-2014-9639
Published: 2015-01-23
Integer overflow in oggenc in vorbis-tools 1.4.0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (crash) via a crafted number of channels in a WAV file, which triggers an out-of-bounds memory access.

CVE-2014-9640
Published: 2015-01-23
oggenc/oggenc.c in vorbis-tools 1.4.0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (out-of-bounds read) via a crafted raw file.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
If you’re a security professional, you’ve probably been asked many questions about the December attack on Sony. On Jan. 21 at 1pm eastern, you can join a special, one-hour Dark Reading Radio discussion devoted to the Sony hack and the issues that may arise from it.