Are You Blocking Ex-Employees’ PHI Access Promptly?

A recent study commissioned by OneLogin has revealed many organizations are not doing enough to prevent data breaches by ex-employees.

Access to computer systems and applications is a requirement while employed, but many organizations are failing to block access to systems promptly when employees leave the company, even though ex-employees pose a significant data security risk.

Blocking access to networks and email accounts when an employee is terminated or otherwise leaves the company is one of the most basic security measures, yet all too often the process is delayed.

600 IT employees who had some responsibility for security in their organization were interviewed for the study and approximately half of respondents said they do not immediately terminate ex-employees’ network access rights. 58% said it takes longer than a day to delete ex-employees’ login credentials.

A quarter of respondents said it can take up to a week to block access, while more than one in five respondents said it can take up to a month to deprovision ex-employees. That gives them plenty of time to gain access to systems and steal information. Almost half of respondents were aware of ex-employees who still had access to company systems, while 44% of respondents lacked confidence that ex-employees had been removed from their networks.

Deprovisioning ex-employees can be a labor-intensive task and IT departments are under considerable time pressure. It is all too easy to postpone the task and concentrate on other more pressing issues. Automatic provisioning technology can reduce the time burden and improve security, but many organizations continue to perform the task manually. Whether automatic or manual, deprovisioning should take place promptly – as soon as the individual is terminated or employment ceases.

How serious is the threat from ex-employees? 20% of respondents said they had experienced at least one data breach by an ex-employee, while approximately half of those individuals said more than 1 in 10 data breaches experienced by their organization was due to an ex-employee.

For healthcare organizations, ex-employees are a significant threat. There have been numerous cases of employees changing companies and taking patient lists with them when they leave. If access is not blocked, there is nothing to stop data being stolen.

Further, if policies are not introduced to cover the deprovisioning of employees or if those policies are not strictly adhered to, organizations are at risk of receiving a HIPAA violation penalty – See Administrative Safeguards § 164.308 (3)(ii)(B).

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.