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Health Care Provider Plugs Potential Data Leak Points

Meridian Health Hospitals's data leak prevention system helped its users protect personal information

Meridian Health Hospitals needed a way for its users to access personal and Web-based email systems at work without risking any data leaks.

The New Jersey-based health care organization -- which operates four hospitals, oversees long-term care facilities, provides home health care services, supplies health care equipment, operates a trauma center, and runs a teaching hospital -- wanted to offer its 10,000 employees in various locations the flexibility to better balance their work and home responsibilities. But the open-door networking policy had its challenges when it came to HIPAA and an industry that puts a premium on safeguarding patient information.

Meridian officials had traditionally educated employees of the risks of this setup, and had placed the necessary security protection in its primary IT systems. But there still was the danger of confidential or sensitive data seeping out the door. “We realized that if we had a data leak, it would probably come from a personal account rather than a corporate one,” says Catherine Gorman-Klug, corporate director of privacy and data security for Meridian Health.

So about two years ago, the health care provider selected a content monitoring package that would examine information flowing out of the organization and identify instances where confidential information was being breached. At the time, the market for these products was in a nascent stage, so Meridian only evaluated a few products, including those from Tablus and Vontu. It went with Tablus, which offered a lexicon specifically for the health care industry. In addition, the software’s ability to monitor Web-based email and its ease of use were key selling points.

Meridian was able to justify the $50,000 purchase by weighing its features versus a potential security breach. “The state of New Jersey has passed a very stringent and punitive ID theft protection act,” Gorman-Klug says.

The deployment of the data leakage product took a few weeks -- and had a few hiccups. Fine-tuning typically is required with these content-monitoring systems so they capture only the appropriate items and don’t generate a lot of false positives. “Initially, we turned on all of filters, so lots of messages were flagged,” Gorman-Klug says. “In retrospect, we should have gone with the high-risk items and then gradually turned on others if they were needed.”

And with the new security tool, Meridian discovered that confidential information indeed was moving around in an insecure manner. “Users were very careful with patient and employer data, but they often sent out their own information from their personal email systems without encrypting it,” Gorman-Klug says. As a result, about 30 percent of the outgoing traffic included questionable material. So Meridian made sure users were made aware of the risks and took the proper steps to prevent these types of leaks.

Meanwhile, content monitoring has evolved quickly. RSA purchased Tablus late last year and renamed the product family, to the RSA Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Suite. “So far, we have not seen any changes in customer service,” Gorman-Klug says.

In fact, the health care provider found other uses for the product, such as scanning all the data stored on users’ laptops connected to its network. The RSA tool ensures that users encrypt all of their information -- both on the laptop and on any attached devices, such as portable storage drives.

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  • RSA Security Inc. (Nasdaq: EMC)

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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