Healthcare Security and Ransomware Protection

Data security, especially for organizations working with sensitive information, should be a top priority. In the healthcare industry, organizations should look to the HIPAA Security Rule for guidance. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires healthcare organizations, and the vendors that service them, to implement administrative, physical, and technical safeguards. These safeguards are meant to provide healthcare security by maintaining the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI). Additionally, ransomware protection is a key component to securing PHI. Both healthcare security and ransomware protection are discussed below.

How to Implement Healthcare Security

To be HIPAA compliant, healthcare security must be addressed. Healthcare organizations can look to the following for guidance when developing their healthcare security program.

  • Self-audits enable organizations to determine if their current healthcare security practices are in line with HIPAA standards. Self-audits must be completed annually to account for any changes in your business practices. Covered entities must complete six annual audits, while business associates are required to complete five. 
  • Best practices prevent unauthorized access to PHI, as the most common cause of breaches is human error. Utilizing strong passwords, regularly updating software, and restricting access to harmful sites, are key components of maintaining healthcare security.
  • Policies and procedures must be customized to apply directly to your business practices. Organizations should review their policies and procedures annually to account for any changes in the way you do business. When drafting your organization’s policies and procedures, it is important to keep HIPAA requirements in mind. 
  • Employee training must be completed annually. As mentioned previously, most healthcare breaches are caused by human error, making employee training one of the most important aspects of healthcare security. Employees should be aware of your organization’s internal policies and procedures, how to recognize a potential breach, how to report a breach, and HIPAA standards.
  • Access controls designate different levels of access to PHI based on an employee’s job role. HIPAA requires organizations to stick to the “minimum necessary” standard when accessing PHI. As such, employees should only be given access to the PHI that they need to perform their jobs. To enable access controls, each employee must be given unique login credentials. This allows normal access patterns to be established for each user, minimizing the risk of insider threats. 
  • Network security requires organizations to only grant access to their internal network to employees that need access. Similarly to access controls, each employee should be given unique login controls so that their activity can be tracked.
  • Data security can be accomplished in several ways, however, the easiest and most cost-effective way to implement data security is with encryption. Although not explicitly mandated by HIPAA, the law states that organizations must implement “reasonable” and “appropriate” measures to secure PHI.
  • Contingency plans minimize downtime in the event of a breach, or natural disaster. They require organizations to identify business-critical data and utilize offsite data centers to backup their data, enabling data to be restored quickly.


Ransomware Protection

Ransomware occurs when a hacker enters an organization’s network, maliciously encrypting their files, demanding a sum of money for their return. The FBI advises victims of ransomware not to pay the ransom, as ransom payments are used to perpetrate further attacks, and paying ransom does not guarantee the return of data. The best ransomware protection is to prevent attacks.

The following are steps that can be taken for ransomware protection:

  • Identify where your sensitive data is to adequately safeguard it. Identifying where your sensitive, or business critical data is, allows you to also identify vulnerabilities in your healthcare security practices.
  • Implement software patches as they become available to minimize vulnerabilities. Failure to implement software patches leaves your organization exposed to potential hackers.
  • Update security systems such as your secure email gateway (SEG) solution. The majority of ransomware attacks start by sending employees emails containing malicious links. A SEG solution identifies and removes malicious links and attachments before they end up in the receiver’s inbox.
  • Segmenting your network prevents ransomware from infecting your entire network. You should keep your business critical data, intellectual property, and PHI on a separate network. 
  • Secure your extended network to ensure that there are no security gaps, preventing unauthorized access. Your extended network should be secured with the same security solutions as your main network. 
  • Isolate recovery systems and backup data to minimize downtime and data loss in the event of a breach or natural disaster. Data backup should be performed periodically to prevent data loss.
  • Test recovery methods to ensure that they are sufficient to recover data in a timely manner.
  • Consult experts if you are the victim of a breach, as they can assist with data recovery, and prevent similar occurrences in the future.
  • Being aware of new ransomware threats is a key component of ransomware protection. Organizations that fail to keep informed are more likely to experience a ransomware attack. There are often subtle indications that something is ransomware, that can prevent hackers from accessing your network, if you are aware of them.
  • Train employees on how to recognize potential phishing emails or other healthcare security incidents. A phishing email is an email sent to an employee, where the sender is disguising themselves as a trusted individual. Phishing emails prompt recipients to click on a malicious link, or provide their login credentials, allowing hackers to access the employee’s computer.

Healthcare security and ransomware protection go hand-in-hand when ensuring that patients’ protected health information (PHI) is secure. Organizations without an IT department should consult an expert when developinging their healthcare security and ransomware protection methods.

Do You Need Help Addressing Healthcare Security?

Compliancy Group gives healthcare providers and vendors working in healthcare the tools to confidently address their HIPAA compliance in a simplified manner. Our cloud-based HIPAA compliance software, the GuardTM, gives healthcare professionals everything they need to demonstrate their “good faith effort” towards achieving HIPAA compliance.

To address HIPAA cybersecurity requirements, Compliancy Group works with IT and managed service provider (MSP) security partners from across the country, who can be contracted to handle your HIPAA cybersecurity protection.

Find out more about how Compliancy Group helps you simplify compliance and cybersecurity today!