7/15/2016
03:45 PM
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New HIPAA Guidance Tackles Ransomware Epidemic In Healthcare

HHS addresses ransomware infections in wake of healthcare attacks.



It took ransomware infections that brought two major hospital systems to their knees earlier this year to demonstrate how dangerous malware can be for healthcare organizations. Now the federal government has issued new guidance via the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to address ransomware attacks.

The US Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights this week issued guidelines for helping healthcare organizations understand, prevent, and prepare for ransomware attacks. It provides information on what ransomware is, how attacks work, how to spot it, how to quell damage, and of course how to protect data with regular backups. The guidance notes that existing HIPAA requirements basically cover ransomware attacks, and explains how a ransomware attack maps to those rules.

“The new guidance reinforces activities required by HIPAA that can help organizations prevent, detect, contain, and respond to threats,” Jocelyn Samuels, director of the Office of Civil Rights, wrote in a blog post. Among those practices: running a risk analysis of threats to electronic health information; training users to detect malware; limiting user access to electronic health records; and establishing a contingency plan including regular data backups, test restoration, and emergency operations.

“Organizations need to take steps to safeguard their data from ransomware attacks. HIPAA covered entities and business associates are required to develop and implement security incident procedures and response and reporting processes that are reasonable and appropriate to respond to malware and other security incidents,” Samuels said.

While having HIPAA address ransomware makes sense, some security experts say it’s no guarantee users won’t still fall for a phish or link in an email.  “Any new guidance that can help healthcare organizations prevent, detect, contain, and respond to threats (especially ransomware) is obviously good guidance. However, will guidance solve the bigger problem of the unsuspecting click?” says Stephen Gates, chief research intelligence analyst at NSFOCUS.

“Ransomware," he says, "is not an exploit that takes advantage of a vulnerable application or operating system. Ransomware is a payload that takes advantage of vulnerable people and their clicks. Even the best guidelines can’t solve that problem.” 

HIPAA’s guidance on ransomware is here.

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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