Vulnerabilities in Fax Machines Can Be Exploited to Gain Network Access and Exfiltrate Sensitive Data
Aug14

Vulnerabilities in Fax Machines Can Be Exploited to Gain Network Access and Exfiltrate Sensitive Data

Despite many alternative communication methods being available, healthcare organizations still extensively use faxes to communicate. Some estimates suggest as many as 75% of all communications occur via fax in the healthcare industry. While fax machines would not rank highly on any list of possible attack vectors, new research shows that flaws in the fax protocol could be exploited to launch attacks on businesses and gain network access. The flaws were detected by researchers at Check Point who successfully exploited them to create a backdoor into a network which was used to steal information through the fax. The researchers believe there are tens of millions of vulnerable fax machines are currently in use around the world. To exploit the flaw, the researchers sent a specially crafted image file through the phone line to a target fax machine. The fax machine decoded the image and uploaded it to the memory and the researchers’ script triggered a buffer overflow condition that allowed remote code execution. The researchers were able to gain full control of the fax machine and, using...

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APWG Detects 46% Rise in Phishing Websites in Q1, 2018
Aug10

APWG Detects 46% Rise in Phishing Websites in Q1, 2018

The Anti-Phishing Working Group has released its Q1, 2018 Phishing Activity Trends Report which shows there was a substantial increase in unique phishing sites detected in the first few months of 2018 compared to the final quarter of 2017. The report explores phishing attacks and methods used between January 1 and March 31, 2018. In Q1, 263,538 unique phishing sites were identified – a 46% increase from the 180,577 unique sites identified in Q4, 2017 and a 38% increase from the 190,942 sites detected in Q3, 2017. There were 60,887 unique phishing sites detected in January 2018 which was on a par with December 2017, although a substantial increase in February (88,754) and a further major increase in March (113,897). The number of unique phishing campaigns reported by APWG customers remained broadly the same in January (89,250) and February (89,010) with a slight fall in March (84,444). 235 brands were spoofed in January, rising to 273 in February, and falling to 238 in March. APWG member MarkMonitor tracked the industry sectors that were most heavily targeted in phishing campaigns....

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At Least 3.14 Million Healthcare Records Were Exposed in Q2, 2018
Aug09

At Least 3.14 Million Healthcare Records Were Exposed in Q2, 2018

In total, there were 143 data breaches reported to the media or the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in Q2, 2018 and the healthcare records of at least 3,143,642 patients were exposed, impermissibly disclosed, or stolen. Almost three times as many healthcare records were exposed or stolen in Q2, 2018 as Q1, 2018. The figures come from the Q2 2018 Breach Barometer Report from Protenus. The data for the report came from OCR data breach reports, data collected and collated by Databreaches.net, and proprietary data collected through the Protenus compliance and analytics platform, which monitors the tens of trillions of EHR access attempts by its healthcare clients. Q2 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches Month Data Breaches Records Exposed April 45 919,395 May 50 1,870,699 June 47 353,548   Q2, 2018 saw five of the top six breaches of 2018 reported. The largest breach reported – and largest breach of 2018 to date – was the 582,174-record breach at the California Department of Developmental Services – a burglary. It is unclear if any healthcare...

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More Than 20 Serious Vulnerabilities in OpenEMR Platform Patched
Aug09

More Than 20 Serious Vulnerabilities in OpenEMR Platform Patched

OpenEMR is an open-source electronic health record management system that is used by many thousands of healthcare providers around the world. It is the leading free-to-use electronic medical record platform and is extremely popular. Around 5,000 physician offices and small healthcare providers in the United States are understood to be using OpenEMR and more than 15,000 healthcare facilities worldwide have installed the platform. Around 100 million patients have their health information stored in the database. Recently, the London-based computer research organization Project Insecurity uncovered a slew of vulnerabilities in the source code which could potentially be exploited to gain access to highly sensitive patient information, and potentially lead to the theft of all patients’ health information. The Project Insecurity team chose to investigate EMR and EHR systems due to the large number of healthcare data breaches that have been reported in recent years. OpenEMR was the natural place to start as it was the most widely used EMR system and with it being open-source, it was easy...

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Vulnerabilities Discovered in Medtronic MyCareLink Patient Monitors and MiniMed Insulin Pumps
Aug08

Vulnerabilities Discovered in Medtronic MyCareLink Patient Monitors and MiniMed Insulin Pumps

An advisory has been issued by ICS-CERT about vulnerabilities in MedTronic MyCareLink Patient Monitors and the MiniMed 508 Insulin Pump. This is the second advisory to be issued about MyCareLink Patient Monitors in the past six weeks. In June, ICS-CERT issued a warning about the use of a hard-coded password (CVE-2018-8870) and an exposed dangerous method or function vulnerability (CVE-2018-8868). The latest vulnerabilities to be discovered are an insufficient verification of data authenticity flaw (CVE-2018-10626) and the storage of passwords in a recoverable format (CVE-2018-10622). The vulnerabilities are present in all versions of the Medtronic MyCareLink 24950 and 24952 Patient Monitors. If an attacker were to obtain per-product credentials from the monitor and the paired implanted cardiac device, it would be possible for invalid data to be uploaded to the Medtronic Carelink network due to insufficient verification of the authenticity of uploaded data. The vulnerability has been assigned a CVSS v3 score of 4.4 (medium severity). The way that passwords are stored could allow...

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Healthcare Organizations Reminded of HIPAA Rules for Disposing of Electronic Devices
Aug07

Healthcare Organizations Reminded of HIPAA Rules for Disposing of Electronic Devices

In its July Cybersecurity Newsletter, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has reminded HIPAA covered entities about HIPAA Rules for disposing of electronic devices and media. Prior to electronic equipment being scrapped, decommissioned, returned to a leasing company or resold, all electronic protected health information (ePHI) on the devices must be disposed of in a secure manner. HIPAA Rules for disposing of electronic devices cover all electronic devices capable of storing PHI, including desktop computers, laptops, servers, tablets, mobile phones, portable hard drives, zip drives, and other electronic storage devices such as CDs, DVDs, and backup tapes. Healthcare organizations also need to be careful when disposing of other electronic equipment such as fax machines, photocopiers, and printers, many of which store data on internal hard drives. These devices in particular carry a high risk of a data breach at the end of life as they are not generally thought of as devices capable of storing ePHI. If electronic devices are not disposed of securely...

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NIST/NCCoE Release Guide for Securing Electronic Health Records on Mobile Devices
Aug06

NIST/NCCoE Release Guide for Securing Electronic Health Records on Mobile Devices

The HIPAA Security Rule requires HIPAA-covered entities to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic protected health information at all times. Healthcare organizations must ensure patients’ health is not endangered, their privacy is protected, and their identities are not compromised. A range of physical, technical, and administrative controls can be implemented to secure ePHI on servers and desktop computers, but ensuring the same level of security for mobile devices can be a major challenge. Mobile devices offer many benefits for healthcare providers. They can improve access to protected health information, ensure that data can be accessed anywhere, and they help healthcare providers improve coordination of care. However, when ePHI is stored on mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones, or is transmitted using those devices, it is particularly vulnerable. Mobile devices are easy to lose, are often stolen, and data transmitted through mobile devices can also be vulnerable to interception. In healthcare, mobile device security is a major...

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Consumers More Worried About Exposure of Financial Information Than Health Data
Aug01

Consumers More Worried About Exposure of Financial Information Than Health Data

The privacy and security of health data is less of a concern for consumers than the privacy and security of financial information such as credit card numbers, according to a recent survey by the healthcare marketing agency SCOUT. The Harris Poll survey was conducted on 2,033 adults from May 10-14, 2018 as part of a new research series called SCOUT Rare Insights. The survey revealed fewer than half of consumers (49%) were very concerned about the privacy and security of their health data, whereas more than two thirds of consumers (69%) were very concerned about the privacy and security of their financial data such as credit/debit card numbers and bank account information. Consumers are often covered by insurance policies on their credit cards and can reclaim losses in many cases. A new credit card number can be issued in cases of theft and there are laws that limit personal liability. However, if health insurance information and Social Security numbers are stolen, breach victims can suffer severe losses that may not be recoverable. Medical identity theft can also cause patients...

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1.4 Million Patients Warned About UnityPoint Health Phishing Attack
Jul31

1.4 Million Patients Warned About UnityPoint Health Phishing Attack

A massive UnityPoint Health phishing attack has been reported, one in which the protected health information of 1.4 million patients has potentially been obtained by hackers. This phishing incident is the largest healthcare data breach of 2018 by some distance, involving more than twice the number of healthcare records as the California Department of Developmental Services data breach reported in April and the LifeBridge Health breach reported in May. This is also the largest phishing incident to be reported by a healthcare provider since the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) started publishing data breaches in 2009 and the largest healthcare breach since the 3,466,120-record breach reported by Newkirk Products, Inc., in August 2016. Email Impersonation Attack Fools Several Employees into Disclosing Login Credentials The UnityPoint Health phishing attack was detected on May 31, 2018. The forensic investigation revealed multiple email accounts had been compromised between March 14 and April 3, 2018 as a result of employees being fooled by email impersonation scams. Business email...

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Cofense Develops New Phishing-Specific Security Orchestration, Automation and Response Platform
Jul30

Cofense Develops New Phishing-Specific Security Orchestration, Automation and Response Platform

Cofense has developed a new product which will soon be added to its portfolio of anti-phishing solutions for healthcare organizations and incorporated into its phishing-specific security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) platform. The announcement comes at a time when the healthcare industry has been experiencing an uptick in phishing attacks. The past few months have seen a large number of healthcare organizations fall victims to phishing attacks that have resulted in cybercriminals gaining access to employee’s email accounts and the PHI contained therein. Perimeter security defenses can be enhanced to greatly reduce the number of malicious emails that reach employees’ inboxes, but even when multiple security solutions are deployed they will not block all phishing threats. Security awareness training is essential to reduce susceptibility to phishing attacks by conditioning employees to stop and think before clicking links in emails or opening questionable email attachments and to report suspicious emails to their security teams. However, security teams can struggle to...

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HHS Secretary Alex Azar Promises Reforms to Federal Health Privacy Rules
Jul30

HHS Secretary Alex Azar Promises Reforms to Federal Health Privacy Rules

At a July 27 address at The Heritage Foundation, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar, explained that the HHS will be undertaking several updates to health privacy regulations over the coming months, including updates to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and 45 CFR Part 2 (Part 2) regulations. The process is expected to commence in the next couple of months. Requests for information on HIPAA and Part 2 will be issued, following which action will be taken to reform both sets of rules to remove obstacles to value-based care and support efforts to combat the opioid crisis. Rule changes are also going to be made to remove some of the barriers to data sharing which are currently hampering efforts by healthcare providers to expand the use of electronic health technology. These requests for information are part of a comprehensive review of current regulations that are hampering the ability of doctors, hospitals, and payers to improve the quality healthcare services and coordination of care while helping to reduce...

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Bill Proposes 18 Months Free Credit Monitoring Services for Data Breach Victims in Massachusetts
Jul25

Bill Proposes 18 Months Free Credit Monitoring Services for Data Breach Victims in Massachusetts

A new bill has been introduced in Massachusetts that seeks to improve protections for consumers affected by data breaches. The bill calls for free credit monitoring services to offered to individuals whose personal information was exposed in a security breach. The bill (H.4806) was filed on Tuesday by a House-Senate conference committee chaired by Rep. Tackey Chan and Sen. Barbara L’Italien and is a compromise bill between competing data security bills that were sent to the committee on May 3. The House Bill required consumers to be provided with a year of credit monitoring services following a data breach whereas the Senate bill required consumers to be provided with 2 years of credit monitoring services following a data breach. The conference committee bill takes the middle ground, requiring 18 months of credit monitoring services to be provided to consumers free of charge following a standard security breach. However, a data breach at a credit monitoring company (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) would require affected consumers to be provided with 42 weeks of credit...

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FDA Issues New Guidance on Use of EHR Data in Clinical Investigations
Jul19

FDA Issues New Guidance on Use of EHR Data in Clinical Investigations

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released new guidance on the use of EHR data in clinical investigations and emphasized that appropriate controls should be put in place to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data. While the guidance is non-binding, it provides healthcare organizations with valuable information on steps to take when deciding whether to use EHRs as a source of data for clinical investigations, how to use them and ensure the quality and integrity of EHR data, and how to make sure that any data collected and used as an electronic source of data meets the FDA’s inspection, recordkeeping and data retention requirements. The aim of the guidance is to promote the interoperability of EHR and EDC systems and facilitate the use of EHR data in clinical investigations, such as long-term studies on the safety and effectiveness of drugs, medical devices, and combination products. The guidance does not apply to data collected for registries and natural history studies, the use of EHR data to evaluate the feasibility of trial design or as a...

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New York Physician Notifies Patients of Exposure of their PHI
Jul19

New York Physician Notifies Patients of Exposure of their PHI

A New York physician has started notifying patients that their protected health information has been exposed and has been potentially accessed unauthorized individuals. Ruben U. Carvajal, MD was alerted to a possible privacy breach on January 3, 2018 and was informed that some of his patients’ health information was accessible over the Internet. An investigation into the possible privacy breach was launched and the matter was reported to the New York Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). FBI investigators visited his office and examined his computer. On February 18, 2018, the FBI confirmed that the EMR program on his computer had been accessed by an unauthorized individual. A forensic investigator was called in to conduct a thorough investigation to determine the nature and scope of the breach. On May 22, 2018 the forensic investigator determined that the physician’s computer had been accessed by an unauthorized individual between December 16, 2017 and January 3, 2018. Any individual that gained access to the physicians’ computer could have gained access...

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Investigation Launched Over Snapchat Photo Sharing at M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center
Jul19

Investigation Launched Over Snapchat Photo Sharing at M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center

Certain employees of a Canandaigua, NY nursing home have been using their smartphones to take photographs and videos of at least one resident and have shared those images and videos with others on Snapchat – a violation of HIPAA and serious violation of patient privacy. The privacy breaches occurred at Thompson Health’s M.M. Ewing Continuing Care Center and involved multiple employees. Thompson Health has already taken action and has fired several workers over the violations. Now the New York Department of Health and the state attorney general’s office have got involved and are conducting investigations. The state attorney general’s Deputy Press Secretary, Rachel Shippee confirmed to the Daily Messenger that an investigation has been launched, confirming “The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit’s mission includes the protection of nursing home residents from abuse, neglect and mistreatment, including acts that violate a resident’s rights to dignity and privacy.” Thompson Health does not believe the images/videos were shared publicly and sharing was restricted to a group of employees at the...

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June 2018 Healthcare Breach Report
Jul18

June 2018 Healthcare Breach Report

There was a 13.8% month-over-month increase in healthcare data breaches in June 2018. Data breaches were up, but the breaches were far less severe in June, with 42.48% fewer healthcare records exposed or stolen than in May. In June there were 33 healthcare data breaches reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights and those breaches saw 356,232 healthcare records exposed or stolen – the lowest number of records exposed in healthcare data breaches since March 2018. Healthcare Data Breaches (January-June 2018) Healthcare Records Exposed (January-June 2018) Causes of Healthcare Data Breaches (June 2018) Unauthorized access/disclosure incidents were the biggest problem area in June, followed by hacking IT incidents. As was the case in May, there were 15 unauthorized access/disclosure breaches and 12 hacking/IT incidents. The remaining six breaches involved the theft of electronic devices (4 incidents) and paper records (2 incidents). There were no reported losses of devices or paperwork and no improper disposal incidents. Healthcare Records Exposed...

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LabCorp Cyberattack Forces Shutdown of Systems: Investigators Currently Determining Scale of Breach
Jul17

LabCorp Cyberattack Forces Shutdown of Systems: Investigators Currently Determining Scale of Breach

LabCorp, one of the largest clinical laboratories in the United States, has experienced a cyberattack that has potentially resulted in hackers gaining access to patients’ sensitive information; however, data theft appears unlikely as the cyberattack has now been confirmed as being a ransomware attack. It has been suggested that variant of SamSam ransomware was used in the brute force RDP attack, although this has not been confirmed by LabCorp. The Burlington, NC-based company runs 36 primary testing laboratories throughout the United States and the Los Angeles National Genetics Institute. The company performs standard blood and urine tests, HIV tests and specialty diagnostic testing services and holds vast quantities of highly sensitive data. The cyberattack occurred over the weekend of July 14, 2018 when suspicious system activity was identified by LabCorp’s intrusion detection system within 50 minutes of the attack commencing. Prompt action was taken to terminate access to its servers and systems were taken offline to contain the attack. With its systems offline, this naturally...

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Children’s Mercy Hospital Sued for 63,000-Record Data Breach
Jul13

Children’s Mercy Hospital Sued for 63,000-Record Data Breach

Legal action has been taken over a phishing attack on Children’s Mercy that resulted in the theft of 63,049 patients’ protected health information. In total, five email accounts were compromised between December 2017 and January 2018. On December, 2, 2017  two email accounts were discovered to have been accessed by an unauthorized individual as a result of employees responding to phishing emails. Links in the emails directed the employees to a website where they were fooled into disclosing their email account credentials. Two weeks later, two more email accounts were compromised in a similar attack, with a fifth and final account compromised in early January. The mailbox accounts of four of those compromised email accounts were downloaded by the attacker, resulting in the unauthorized disclosure of patients’ protected health information. Patients were notified of the breach via a substitute breach notice on the Children’s Mercy website and notification letters were sent by mail. Due to the number of people impacted, the letters were sent out in batches. According to a recent...

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Healthcare Data Breach Costs Highest of Any Industry at $408 Per Record
Jul12

Healthcare Data Breach Costs Highest of Any Industry at $408 Per Record

A recent study conducted by the Ponemon Institute on behalf of IBM Security has revealed the hidden cost of data breaches, and for the first time, the cost of mitigating 1 million-record+ data breaches. The study provides insights into the costs of resolving data breaches and the full financial impact on organizations’ bottom lines. For the global study, 477 organizations were recruited and more than 2,200 individuals were interviewed and asked about the data breaches experienced at their organizations and the associated costs. The breach costs were calculated using the activity-based costing (ABC) methodology. The average number of records exposed or stolen in the breaches assessed in the study was 24,615 and 31,465 in the United States. Last year, the Annual Cost of a Data Breach Study by the Ponemon Institute/IBM Security revealed the cost of breaches had fallen year over year to $3.62 million. The 2018 study, conducted between February 2017 and April 2018, showed data breach costs have risen once again. The average cost of a data breach is now $3.86 million – An annual increase...

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Patient Privacy and Security Are Greatest Healthcare Concerns for Consumers
Jul10

Patient Privacy and Security Are Greatest Healthcare Concerns for Consumers

A recent survey conducted by the health insurer Aetna explored consumers’ attitudes to healthcare, their relationships with their providers, and what they view as the most important aspects of healthcare. The Health Ambitions Study was conducted on 1,000 consumers aged 18 and above, with a corresponding survey conducted on 400 physicians – 200 primary care doctors and 200 specialists. The consumer survey showed consumers are paying attention to their healthcare. A majority pay attention to holistic health and seek resources that support better health and wellbeing. 60% of respondents to the survey said that if they were given an extra hour each day they would spend it doing activities that improved their health or mental health. 67% of women and 44% of men would devote the hour to these activities. Fewer women believed their physicians understood their health needs than men. 65% of women and 80% of men said their doctor is familiar with their health goals. Women find it harder than men to talk to their physicians about their lifestyle habits (70% vs 81%) and women were much less...

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Coding Error by EHR Vendor Results in Impermissible Sharing of 150,000 Patients’ Health Data
Jul10

Coding Error by EHR Vendor Results in Impermissible Sharing of 150,000 Patients’ Health Data

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has announced that approximately 150,000 patients who had opted out of having their health data shared for the purposes of clinical research and planning have had their data shared against their wishes. In the UK, there are two types of opt-outs patients can choose if they do not want their confidential health data shared. A type 1 opt-out allows patients to stop the health data held in their general practitioner (GP) medical record from being used for anything other than their individual care. A Type 2 opt-out is used to prevent health care data being shared by NHS Digital for purposes other than providing individual care. 150,000 patients who had registered a Type 2 opt-out have had their data shared. The impermissible sharing of health data occurred as a result of an error by one of its EHR vendors, TPP. TPP provides the NHS with the SystmOne EHR system, which is use in many GP practices throughout the UK. A coding error in the system meant that these Type 2 requests were not passed on to NHS Digital, and as a result, NHS Digital was...

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HIMSS Warns of Exploitation of API Vulnerabilities and USB-Based Cyberattacks
Jul06

HIMSS Warns of Exploitation of API Vulnerabilities and USB-Based Cyberattacks

HIMSS has released its June Healthcare and Cross-Sector Cybersecurity Report in which healthcare organizations are warned about the risk of exploitation of vulnerabilities in application programming interfaces, man-in the middle attacks, cookie tampering, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Healthcare organizations have also been advised to be alert to the possibility of USB devices being used to gain access to isolated networks and the increase in used of Unicode characters to create fraudulent domains for use in phishing attacks. API Attacks Could Be the Next Big Attack Vector Perimeter defenses are improving, making it harder for cybercriminals to gain access to healthcare networks. However, alternative avenues are being explored by hackers looking for an easier route to gain access to sensitive data. Vulnerabilities in API’s could be a weak point and several cybersecurity experts believe APIs could well prove to be the next biggest cyber-attack vector. API usage in application development has become the norm, after all, it is easier to use a third-party solution...

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AHA Voices Concern About CMS’ Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System Proposed Rule
Jul05

AHA Voices Concern About CMS’ Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System Proposed Rule

The American Hospital Association (AHA) has voiced the concerns of its members about the HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ hospital inpatient prospective payment system proposed rule for fiscal year 2019, including the requirement to allow any health app of a patient’s choosing to connect to healthcare providers’ APIs. Consumer Education Program Required to Explain that HIPAA Doesn’t Apply to Health Apps Mobile health apps can con collect and store a considerable amount of personal and health information – in many cases, the same information that would be classed as protected Health Information (PHI) under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Rules. However, HIPAA does not usually apply to health app developers and therefore the health data collected, stored, and transmitted by those apps may not be protected to the level demanded by HIPAA. When consumers enter information into the apps, they may not be aware that the safeguards in place to protect their privacy may not be as stringent as those implemented by their healthcare providers. There...

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Healthcare Worker Charged with Criminally Violating HIPAA Rules
Jul03

Healthcare Worker Charged with Criminally Violating HIPAA Rules

A former University of Pittsburgh Medical Center patient information coordinator has been indicted by a federal grand jury over criminal violations of HIPAA Rules, according to an announcement by the Department of Justice on June 29, 2018. Linda Sue Kalina, 61, of Butler, Pennsylvania, has been charged in a six-count indictment that includes wrongfully obtaining and disclosing the protected health information of 111 patients. Kalina worked at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the Allegheny Health Network between March 30, 2016 and August 14, 2017. While employed at the healthcare organizations, Kalina is alleged to have accessed the protected health information (PHI) of those patients without authorization or any legitimate work reason for doing so. Additionally, Kalina is alleged to have stolen PHI and, on four separate occasions between December 30, 2016, and August 11, 2017, disclosed that information to three individuals with intent to cause malicious harm. Kalina was arrested following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was taken up...

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California Passes GDPR-Style Data Privacy Law
Jul02

California Passes GDPR-Style Data Privacy Law

AB 375, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, has been signed into law. The bill was signed by California governor Jerry Brown on Thursday after the state Senate and Assembly passed the bill unanimously. California already has some of the strictest privacy laws in the United States. Under existing legislation, companies that experience a breach of personal information must notify affected individuals if their computerized data is exposed or stolen. This law takes privacy protections much further and gives state residents several new GDPR-style privacy rights, including: The right to request information from businesses about the types of personal data that are collected and processed and the source of that information Be informed about the purpose for collecting, using, and selling personal data Categories of third parties with whom the information is shared The right to request a copy of all personal information collected by a business The right to have all personal information deleted on request The right to request personal information is not sold The right to initiate...

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Protected Health Information Sent to Incorrect Fax Recipient Over Several Months
Jun27

Protected Health Information Sent to Incorrect Fax Recipient Over Several Months

Faxes containing the protected health information (PHI) of a patient have been sent to an incorrect recipient by OhioHealth’s Grant Medical Center over a period of several months – A violation of patient privacy and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The recipient of the faxes, Elizabeth Spilker, tried on numerous occasions to notify Grant Medical Center about the problem and stop the faxes being sent, but her efforts were unsuccessful. She tried faxing back a message on the same number requesting a change to the programmed fax number and tried contacting the medical center by telephone. Spilker later notified ABC6 about the issue and the story was covered in a June 18 report. In the report, Spilker explained that faxes had been received from Grant Medical Center for more than a year. The messages contained a range of protected health information including name, age, weight, medical history, medications prescribed, and other sensitive health information. Typically, the faxes were received at the end of the day. Repeated attempts were made to send the...

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Unencrypted Hospital Pager Messages Intercepted and Viewed by Radio Hobbyist
Jun26

Unencrypted Hospital Pager Messages Intercepted and Viewed by Radio Hobbyist

Many healthcare organizations have now transitioned to secure messaging systems and have retired their outdated pager systems. Healthcare organizations that have not yet made the switch to secure text messaging platforms should take note of a recent security breach that saw pages from multiple hospitals intercepted by a ‘radio hobbyist’ in Missouri. Intercepting pages using software defined radio (SDR) is nothing new. There are various websites that explain how the SDR can be used and its capabilities, including the interception of private communications. The risk of PHI being obtained by hackers using this tactic has been well documented.  All that is required is some easily obtained hardware that can be bought for around $30, a computer, and some free software. In this case, an IT worker from Johnson County, MO purchased an antenna and connected it to his laptop in order to pick up TV channels. However, he discovered he could pick up much more. By accident, he intercepted pages sent by physicians at several hospitals. The man told the Kansas City Star he intercepted pages...

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District Court Ruling Confirms No Private Cause of Action in HIPAA
Jun25

District Court Ruling Confirms No Private Cause of Action in HIPAA

Patients who believe HIPAA Rules have been violated can submit a compliant to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, but they do not have the right to take legal action, at least not for the HIPAA violation. There is no individual private cause of action under HIPAA law. Several patients have filed lawsuits over alleged HIPAA violations, although the cases have not proved successful. A recent case has confirmed once again that there is no private cause of action in HIPAA, and lawsuits filed solely on the basis of a HIPAA violation are extremely unlikely to succeed. Ms. Hope Lee-Thomas filed the lawsuit for an alleged HIPAA violation that occurred at Providence Hospital in Washington D.C., where she received treatment from LabCorp. Ms. Lee-Thomas, who represented herself in the action, claims that while at the hospital on June 15, 2017, a LabCorp employee instructed her to enter her protected health information at a computer intake station. Ms. Lee-Thomas told the LabCorp employee that the information was in full view of another person at a different...

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Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act Passed by House
Jun22

Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act Passed by House

The Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act – H.R. 6082 – aims to ease restrictions on the sharing of health records of patients with addictions, aligning 42 CFR Part 2 – Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records – with HIPAA. Currently, 42 CFR Part 2 only permits the disclosure of health records of patients with substance abuse disorder without written consent to medical staff in emergency situations, to specified individuals for research and program evaluations, or if required to do so by means of a court order. Under current regulations, a special release form must be signed by a patient authorizing the inclusion of substance abuse disorder information in their medical record. Preventing doctors from having access to a patient’s entire medical history means decisions could be taken without full understanding of their potential consequences. If details of substance abuse disorder can be accessed, doctors will be able to make more informed decisions which will help them to safely and effectively treat patients. The Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety...

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Common Rule Compliance Date Delayed Until January 2019
Jun22

Common Rule Compliance Date Delayed Until January 2019

On June 19, 2018, the federal government published the final rule for the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects – The Common Rule. The aim of the Common Rule is to protect individuals who voluntarily participate in research, while also reducing the administrative and regulatory burdens for low-risk research. A revised Common Rule was due to take effect on January 19, 2018 with an effective compliance date on the same date. However, an interim final rule was published on January 17, 2018 delaying the effective date for six months – The new compliance date was due to be July 19, 2018. On April 20, 2018, a notice of proposed rulemaking was published seeking comments about whether the new Common Rule requirements should be delayed for a further six months. After assessing the comments received on the notice of proposed rulemaking, the proposals made in that NPRM have been adopted and the compliance date has now been extended until January 21, 2019. In the final rule it was noted, “We acknowledge that the timing of the interim final rule was not ideal and led to...

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Washington Health System Suspends Several Employees for Inappropriate PHI Access
Jun21

Washington Health System Suspends Several Employees for Inappropriate PHI Access

Following the alleged inappropriate accessing of patient health records by employees, Washington Health System has taken the decision to suspend several employees while the privacy breach is investigated. While it has not been confirmed how many employees have been suspended, Washington Health System VP of strategy and clinical services, Larry Pantuso, issued a statement to the Observer Reporter indicating around a dozen employees have been suspended, although at this stage, no employees have been fired for inappropriate medical record access. The privacy breaches are believed to relate to the death of an employee of the WHS Neighbor Health Center. Kimberly Dollard, 57, was killed when an out of control car driven by Chad Spence, 43, rammed into the building where she worked. Spence and one other individual were admitted to the hospital after sustaining injuries in the accident. Pantuso did not confirm that this was the incident that prompted the employees to access patients’ medical records, although he did confirm that the alleged inappropriate access related to a “high profile...

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May 2018 Healthcare Data Breach Report
Jun19

May 2018 Healthcare Data Breach Report

April was a particularly bad month for healthcare data breaches with 41 reported incidents. While it is certainly good news that there has been a month-over-month reduction in healthcare data breaches, the severity of some of the breaches reported last month puts May on a par with April. There were 29 healthcare data breaches reported by healthcare providers, health plans, and business associates of covered entities in May – a 29.27% month-over month reduction in reported breaches. However, 838,587 healthcare records were exposed or stolen in those incidents – only 56,287 records fewer than the 41 incidents in April. In May, the mean breach size was 28,917 records and the median was 2,793 records. In April the mean breach size was 21,826 records and the median was 2,553 records. Causes of May 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches Unauthorized access/disclosure incidents were the most numerous type of breach in May 2018 with 15 reported incidents (51.72%). There were 12 hacking/IT incidents reported (41.38%) and two theft incidents (6.9%). There were no lost unencrypted electronic devices...

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OCR Announces $4.3 Million Civil Monetary Penalty for University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Jun19

OCR Announces $4.3 Million Civil Monetary Penalty for University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has announced its fourth largest HIPAA violation penalty has been issued to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MD Anderson). MD Anderson has been ordered to pay $4,348,000 in civil monetary penalties to resolve the HIPAA violations related to three data breaches experienced in 2012 and 2013. MD Anderson is an academic institution and a cancer treatment and research center based at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, TX. Following the submission of three breach reports in 2012 and 2013, OCR launched an investigation to determine whether the breaches were caused as a result of MD Anderson having failed to comply with HIPAA Rules. The breaches in question were the theft of an unencrypted laptop computer from the home of an MD Anderson employee and the loss of two unencrypted USB thumb drives, each of which contained the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of its patients. In total, the PHI of 34,883 patients was exposed and could potentially have been viewed by unauthorized individuals....

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More than 90% of Hospitals and Physicians Say Mobile Technology is Improving Patient Safety and Outcomes
Jun12

More than 90% of Hospitals and Physicians Say Mobile Technology is Improving Patient Safety and Outcomes

90% of hospitals and 94% of physicians have adopted mobile technology and say it is helping to improve patient safety and outcomes, according to a recent survey conducted by Black Book Research. The survey was conduced on 770 hospital-based users and 1,279 physician practices between Q4, 2017 and Q1, 2018. The survey revealed 96% of hospitals are planning on investing in a new clinical communications platform this year or have already adopted a new, comprehensive communications platform. 85% of surveyed hospitals and 83% of physician practices have already adopted a secure communication platform to improve communications between care teams, patients, and their families. Secure text messaging platform are fast becoming the number one choice due to the convenience of text messages, the security offered by the platforms, and the improvements they make to productivity and profitability. 98% of hospitals and 77% of physician practices said they have implemented secure, encrypted email and are using intrusion detection systems to ensure breaches are detected rapidly. Many providers of...

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12-Month Suspension for Nurse Who Provided Patient Information to New Employer
Jun08

12-Month Suspension for Nurse Who Provided Patient Information to New Employer

The New York State Education Department has suspended the license of a nurse practitioner for violating the privacy of patients by providing their contact information to her new employer. In April 2015, Martha C. Smith-Lightfoot took a spreadsheet containing the personally identifiable information of approximately 3,000 patients of University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and gave that information to her new employer, Greater Rochester Neurology. The privacy violation was uncovered when several patients complained to URMC about being contacted by Greater Rochester Neurology about switching providers. Prior to leaving URMC, Smith-Lightfoot requested information on patients she has treated in order to ensure continuity of care.  URMC provider her with a spreadsheet that contained names, addresses, dates of birth, and diagnoses. URMC did not authorize Smith-Lightfoot to take the spreadsheet with her when she left employment. The provision of the patient list to Greater Rochester Neurology was an impermissible disclosure of PHI and a violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. When it...

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Healthcare Employees Accused of Taking PHI to New Employers
Jun07

Healthcare Employees Accused of Taking PHI to New Employers

Two HIPAA-covered entities are notifying patients that former employees have accessed databases and stolen protected health information to take to new employers. Former Hair Free Forever Employee Contacts Patients to Solicit Customers Hair Free Forever, a Ventura, CA-based provider of permanent hair removal treatments, has announced that a former employee has stolen patient information and has been contacting its patients in an attempt to solicit customers. The company uses Thermolysis to permanently remove hair. Since the technique is classed as a medical procedure, Hair Free Forever and its employees are required to comply with HIPAA Rules. In a data breach notice provided to the California attorney general, Hair Free Forever’s Cheryl Conway informs patients that the former employee accessed patient files and the company’s database and stole patients’ protected health information, in clear violation of HIPAA Rules. The data theft came to light when complaints were received from customers who had been contacted and told about the former employee’s new practice. An investigation...

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Colorado Governor Signs Data Protection Bill into Law
Jun05

Colorado Governor Signs Data Protection Bill into Law

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has signed a bill – HB 1128 – into law that strengthens protections for consumer data in the state of Colorado. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Reps. Cole Wist (R) and Jeff Bridges (D) and Sens. Kent Lambert (R) and Lois Court (D), was unanimously passed by the Legislature. The bill will take effect from September 1, 2018. The bill requires organizations operating in the state of Colorado to implement reasonable security measures and practices to ensure the personal identifying information (PII) of state residents is protected. The bill also reduces the time for notifying the state attorney general about breaches of PII and introduces new rules for disposing of PII when it is no longer required. Personal information is classed as first name and last name or first initial and last name in combination with any of the following data elements (when not encrypted, redacted, or secured by another means that renders the information unreadable): Social Security number Student ID number Military ID number Passport number Driver’s license number or...

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Could Law Firms Targeting Patients in ER Rooms Using Geofencing Technology Violate HIPAA?
Jun01

Could Law Firms Targeting Patients in ER Rooms Using Geofencing Technology Violate HIPAA?

Questions are being raised about whether HIPAA Rules are being violated when attorneys send text messages and push notifications to patients who have visited emergency rooms and other medical facilities using geofencing technology. Marketers are using a range of clever tactics to sell products and services such as remarketing – The displaying of advertisements on websites to individuals who have previously viewed products on another website but not made a purchase. Similarly, the use of geofencing is growing in popularity. Geofencing is the creation of a digital fence around a specific location. When an individual crosses that invisible boundary, a push notification is sent to the users mobile phone. That location could be a store or any location. Retailers have been using the technology for some time, Google sends push notifications based on location, and now attorneys are getting in on the act. This tactic of targeting specific individuals is being offered by at least one digital marketing firm and the service is being offered to attorneys. In this case the geofence is around...

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Aetna Files Further Lawsuit in an Attempt to Recover Costs from 2017 HIV Status Privacy Breach
Jun01

Aetna Files Further Lawsuit in an Attempt to Recover Costs from 2017 HIV Status Privacy Breach

There have been further developments in the ongoing legal battles over a 2017 privacy breach experienced by Aetna involving the exposure of patients’ sensitive health information. A further lawsuit has been filed by the insurer in an attempt to recover the costs incurred as a result of the breach. Ongoing Legal Battles Over the Exposure of Patients’ HIV Statuses In 2017, the health insurer Aetna experienced a data breach that saw highly sensitive patient information impermissibly disclosed to other individuals. A mailing vendor sent letters to patients using envelopes with clear plastic windows and information about HIV medications were allegedly visible. The mailings related to HIV medications used to treat patients who had already contracted HIV and individuals who were taking drugs as pre-exposure prophylaxis. Approximately 12,000 patients received the mailing. Lawsuits were filed on behalf of patients whose HIV positive status was impermissibly disclosed, which were settled in January for $17.2 million. A settlement was agreed with the New York state attorney general for a...

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OCR Reminds Covered Entities Not to Overlook Physical Security Controls
May31

OCR Reminds Covered Entities Not to Overlook Physical Security Controls

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reminded covered entities that HIPAA not only requires technical controls to be implemented to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information, but also appropriate physical security controls. Physical controls are often the simplest and cheapest forms of protection to keep PHI private and confidential, yet these security controls are often overlooked. Some physical security controls cost nothing – such as ensuring portable electronic devices (laptop computers, portable storage devices, and pen drives) are locked away when they are not in use. While this is a very basic form of security, it is one of the most effective ways of preventing theft and one that can prove incredibly costly if overlooked. OCR draws attention to a 2015 HIPAA breach settlement with Lahey Hospital and Medical Center. An unencrypted laptop computer was stolen from the Tufts Medical School affiliated teaching hospital resulting in the exposure 599 patients’ ePHI. The laptop computer was used...

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Lack of Visibility into Employee Activity Leaves Organizations Vulnerable to Data Breaches
May30

Lack of Visibility into Employee Activity Leaves Organizations Vulnerable to Data Breaches

The 2018 Insider Threat Intelligence Report from Dtex Systems shows how a lack of visibility into employee activities is preventing security teams from acting on serious data security threats. The report is based on data gathered from risk assessments performed on the firm’s customers and prospective customers. Those risk assessments highlighted just how common it is for employees to attempt to bypass security controls, download shadow IT, and violate company policies. If your risk assessment has identified employees attempting to bypass security controls, you are not alone. According to the Dtex Systems report, 60% of risk assessments uncovered attempts by employees to bypass an organization’s security controls, use of private and anonymous browsers, or cases where employees had researched how to bypass security controls. In most cases, employees are attempting to bypass security controls to gain access to websites that breach acceptable internet usage policies – such as adult content, gaming, and gambling sites, and to access P2P file sharing websites. 67% of companies discovered...

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HITRUST Now Offers NIST Cybersecurity Framework Certification
May24

HITRUST Now Offers NIST Cybersecurity Framework Certification

The security and privacy standards development and accreditation organization HITRUST has started offering certification for the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (Cybersecurity Framework). The certification program makes it easier for healthcare organizations to report progress to management, business partners, and regulators and verify they have met NIST cybersecurity framework controls. The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a set of standards and best practices that help organizations improve security, manage cybersecurity risk, and protect critical infrastructure. Many healthcare organizations have adopted the NIST cybersecurity framework but are unsure how they are doing in the cybersecurity categories. Through the HITRUST CSF Assurance Program, healthcare organizations can assess whether they have met the requirements in each of the NIST categories. The HITRUST CSF now includes a scorecard that allows organizations to check how their security program maps to the core subcategories of the...

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OCR Plans to Share HIPAA Violation Settlements with Breach Victims
May23

OCR Plans to Share HIPAA Violation Settlements with Breach Victims

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was enacted in 2009 and includes a provision that calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to share a percentage of HIPAA settlements with victims of HIPAA violations and data breaches. This month has seen some progress in that area. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has announced it is planning on issuing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in November about sharing a percentage of the fines it collects through its HIPAA enforcement activities with the victims of data breaches. OCR officials have previously made it clear that steps will be taken to meet the requirements of this HITECH provision, but little progress has been made. This is not the first time that OCR has announced it plans to issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on the matter only for the advance notice of proposed rulemaking to be delayed. If OCR follows through on its plans this fall, feedback will be sought from the public and industry stakeholders on how it can achieve...

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Healthcare Data Breach Report: April 2018
May18

Healthcare Data Breach Report: April 2018

April was a particularly bad month for healthcare data breaches with both the number of breaches and the number of individuals impacted by breaches both substantially higher than in March. There were 41 healthcare data breaches reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights in April. Those breaches resulted in the theft/exposure of 894,874 healthcare records. Healthcare Data Breach Trends For the past four months, the number of healthcare data breaches reported to OCR has increased month over month. For the third consecutive month, the number of records exposed in healthcare data breaches has increased. Causes of Healthcare Data Breaches in April 2018 The healthcare industry may be a big target for hackers, but the biggest cause of healthcare data breaches in April was unauthorized access/disclosure incidents. While cybersecurity defences have been improved to make it harder for hackers to gain access to healthcare data, there is still a major problem preventing accidental data breaches by insiders and malicious acts by healthcare employees....

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Warnings Issued Over Vulnerable Medical Devices
May14

Warnings Issued Over Vulnerable Medical Devices

Warnings have been issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) about vulnerabilities in several medical devices manufactured by Silex Technology, GE Healthcare, and Phillips. If the vulnerabilities were to be exploited, an unauthorized individual could potentially take control of the devices. Phillips Brilliance CT Scanners In early May, Phillips alerted the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) about security vulnerabilities affecting its Brilliance CT scanners. Phillips has been working to remediate the vulnerabilities and has been working with DHS to alert users of its devices to help them reduce risk. There have been no reports received to suggest any of the vulnerabilities have been exploited in the wild. Three vulnerabilities have been discovered to affect the following scanners: Brilliance 64 version 2.6.2 and below Brilliance iCT versions 4.1.6 and below Brillance iCT SP versions 3.2.4 and below Brilliance CT Big Bore 2.3.5 and below See ICS-CERT advisory...

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Spate of Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations Sees 90,000 Records Exposed
May10

Spate of Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations Sees 90,000 Records Exposed

The past few weeks have seen a significant rise in successful phishing attacks on healthcare organizations. In a little over four weeks there have been 10 major email hacking incidents reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, each of which has resulted in the exposure and potential theft of more than 500 healthcare records. Those ten incidents alone have seen almost 90,000 healthcare records compromised. Recent Email Hacking and Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations HIPAA-Covered Entity Records Exposed Inogen Inc. 29,529 Knoxville Heart Group 15,995 USACS Management Group Ltd 15,552 UnityPoint Health 16,429 Texas Health Physicians Group 3,808 Scenic Bluffs Health Center 2,889 ATI Holdings LLC 1,776 Worldwide Insurance Services 1,692 Billings Clinic 949 Diagnostic Radiology & Imaging, LLC 800 The Oregon Clinic Undisclosed   So far this year there have been three data breaches involving the hacking of email accounts that have exposed more than 30,000 records. Agency for Health Care Administration suffered a 30,000-record breach in...

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DoD IG Discovers Serious Flaws in Navy and Air Force EHR and Security Systems and Potential HIPAA Violations
May09

DoD IG Discovers Serious Flaws in Navy and Air Force EHR and Security Systems and Potential HIPAA Violations

A Department of Defense Inspector General (DoDIG) audit of the electronic health record (EHR) and security systems at the Defense Health Agency (DHA), Navy, and Air Force has uncovered serious security vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited to gain access to systems and protected health information (PHI). This is the second DoDIG report from recent audits of military training facilities (MTFs). The first report revealed the DHA and Army had failed to consistently implement security protocols to safeguard EHRs and systems that stored, processed, or transmitted PHI. The latest report, which covers the DHA, Navy, and Air Force, has revealed serious vulnerabilities in 11 different areas. Inconsistency of implementing security protocols to protect EHRs and PHI, and the ineffective administrative, technical, and physical safeguards deployed constitute violations of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Rules. Those violations could attract financial penalties of up to $1.5 million per violation category. The DoDIG visited three Navy and two Air Force...

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Class Action Lawsuit Claims UnityPoint Health Mislead Patients over Severity of Phishing Attack
May08

Class Action Lawsuit Claims UnityPoint Health Mislead Patients over Severity of Phishing Attack

A class action lawsuit has been filed in response to a data breach at UnityPoint Health that saw the protected health information (PHI) of 16,429 patients exposed and potentially obtained by unauthorized individuals. As with many other healthcare data breaches, PHI was exposed as a result of employees falling for phishing emails. UnityPoint Health discovered the security breach on February 15, 2018 and sent breach notification letters to affected patients two months later, on or around April 16, 2018. HIPAA-covered entities have up to 60 days following the discovery of a data breach to issue notifications to patients. Many healthcare organizations wait before issuing breach notifications and submitting reports of the incident to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. Waiting for two months to issue notifications to breach victims could be viewed as a violation of HIPAA Rules. While the maximum time limit for reporting was not exceeded, the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule requires notifications to be sent ‘without unnecessary delay.’ The HHS’ Office for...

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Massachusetts Physician Convicted for Criminal HIPAA Violation
May04

Massachusetts Physician Convicted for Criminal HIPAA Violation

Criminal penalties for HIPAA violations are relatively rare, although the Department of Justice does pursue criminal charges for HIPAA violations when there has been a serious violation of patient privacy, such as an impermissible disclosure of protected health information for financial gain or malicious purposes. One such case has resulted in two criminal convictions – a violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and obstructing a criminal healthcare investigation. The case relates to the DOJ investigation of the pharmaceutical firm Warner Chilcott over healthcare fraud. In 2015, Warner Chilcott plead guilty to paying kickbacks to physicians for prescribing its drugs and for manipulating prior authorizations to induce health insurance firms to pay for prescriptions. The case was settled with the DOJ for $125 million. Last week, a Massachusetts gynecologist, Rita Luthra, M.D., 67, of Longmeadow, was convicted for violating HIPAA by providing a Warner Chilcott sales representative with access to the protected health information of patients for a period of...

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Study Reveals Healthcare Industry Employees Struggling to Understand Data Security Risks
Apr30

Study Reveals Healthcare Industry Employees Struggling to Understand Data Security Risks

The recently published Beyond the Phish Report from Wombat Security, now a division of Proofpoint, has revealed healthcare employees have a lack of understanding of common security threats. For the report, Wombat Security compiled data from nearly 85 million questions and answers posed to customers’ end users across 12 categories and 16 industries. Respondents were asked about security best practices that would help them avoid ransomware attacks, malware installations, and phishing attacks and established the level of expertise at protecting confidential information, defending against email and web-based scams, securing mobile devices, working safely in remote locations, identifying physical risks, disposing of sensitive information securely, using strong passwords, and safe use of social media and the web. Overall, the healthcare industry performed second worst for security awareness, just ahead of the hospitality industry, with the survey highlighting several areas of weakness that could potentially be exploited by cybercriminals to gain access to healthcare networks and...

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How to Defend Against Insider Threats in Healthcare
Apr26

How to Defend Against Insider Threats in Healthcare

One of the biggest data security challenges is how to defend against insider threats in healthcare. Insiders are responsible for more healthcare data breaches than hackers, making the industry unique. Verizon’s Protected Health Information Data Breach Report highlights the extent of the problem. The report shows 58% of all healthcare data breaches and security incidents are the result of insiders. Healthcare organizations also struggle to detect insider breaches, with many breaches going undetected for months or even years. One healthcare employee at a Massachusetts hospital was discovered to have been accessing healthcare records without authorization for 14 years before the privacy violations were detected, during which time the records of more than 1,000 patients had been viewed. Healthcare organizations must not only take steps to reduce the potential for insider breaches, they should also implement technological solutions, policies, and procedures that allow breaches to be detected rapidly when they do occur. What are Insider Threats? Before explaining how healthcare...

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Report: Healthcare Data Breaches in Q1, 2018
Apr24

Report: Healthcare Data Breaches in Q1, 2018

The first three months of 2018 have seen 77 healthcare data breaches reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Those breaches have impacted more than one million patients and health plan members – Almost twice the number of individuals that were impacted by healthcare data breaches in Q4, 2017. There was a 10.5% fall in the number of data breaches reported quarter over quarter, but the severity of breaches increased. The mean breach size increased by 130.57% and there was a 15.37% increase in the median breach size. In Q4, 2017, the mean breach size was 6,048 healthcare records and the median breach size was 1,666 records. In Q1, 2018, the mean breach size was 13,945 records and the median breach size was 1,922 records. Between January 1 and March 31, 2018, 1,073,766 individuals had their PHI exposed, viewed, or stolen compared to 520,141 individuals in Q4, 2017. Individuals Impacted by Healthcare Data Breaches in Q1, 2018 Throughout 2017, healthcare data breaches were occurring at a rate of more than one per day. Compared to 2017,...

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Healthcare Compliance Programs Not In Line With Expectations of Regulators
Apr23

Healthcare Compliance Programs Not In Line With Expectations of Regulators

Healthcare compliance officers are prioritizing compliance with HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, even though the majority of Department of Justice and the HHS Office of Inspector General enforcement actions are not for violations of HIPAA or security breaches, but corrupt arrangements with referral sources and false claims. There are more penalties issued by regulators for these two compliance failures than penalties for HIPAA violations. HIPAA enforcement by the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights has increased, yet the liabilities to healthcare organizations from corrupt arrangements with referral sources and false claims are far higher. Even so, these aspects of compliance are relatively low down the list of priorities, according to a recent survey of 388 healthcare professionals conducted by SAI Global and Strategic Management Services. The survey was conducted on compliance officers from healthcare organizations of all sizes, from small physician practices to large integrated hospital systems. The aim of the study was to identify the key issues faced by compliance officers and...

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FDA Develops Five-Point Action Plan for Improving Medical Device Cybersecurity
Apr20

FDA Develops Five-Point Action Plan for Improving Medical Device Cybersecurity

The past few years have seen an explosion in the number of medical devices that have come to market. While those devices have allowed healthcare providers and patients to monitor and manage health in more ways that has ever been possible, concerns have been raised about medical device cybersecurity. Medical devices collect, store, receive, and transmit sensitive information either directly or indirectly through the systems to which they connect. While there are clear health benefits to be gained from using these devices, any device that collects, receives, stores, or transmits protected health information introduces a risk of that information being exposed. The FDA reports that in the past year, a record number of novel devices have been approved for use in the United States and that we are currently enjoying “an unparalleled period of invention in medical devices.” The FDA is encouraging the development of novel devices to address health needs, while balancing the risks and benefits. The FDA has been working closely with healthcare providers, patients, and device manufacturers to...

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Version 1.1 of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework Released
Apr18

Version 1.1 of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework Released

On April 16, 2018, The National Institute of Standards and Technology released an updated version of its Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (Cybersecurity Framework). The Cybersecurity Framework was first issued in February 2014 and has been widely adopted by critical infrastructure owners and public and private sector organizations to guide their cybersecurity programs. While intended for use by critical infrastructure industries, the flexibility of the framework means it can also be adopted by a wide range of businesses, large and small, including healthcare organizations. The Cybersecurity Framework incorporates guidelines, standards, and best practices and offers a flexible approach to cybersecurity. There are several ways that the Framework can be used with ample scope for customization. The Framework helps organizations address different threats and vulnerabilities and matches various levels of risk tolerance. The Framework was intended to be a living document that can be updated and improved over time in response to feedback from users, changing...

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Analysis of March 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches
Apr16

Analysis of March 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches

There has been a month-over-month increase in healthcare data breaches. In March 2018, 29 security incidents were reported by HIPAA covered entities compared to 25 incidents in February. Even though more data breaches were reported in March, there was a fall in the number of individuals impacted by breaches. March 2018 healthcare data breaches saw 268,210 healthcare records exposed – a 13.13% decrease from the 308,780 records exposed in incidents in February. Causes of March 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches March saw the publication of the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report which confirmed the healthcare industry is the only vertical where more data breaches are caused by insiders than hackers. That trend continued in March. Unauthorized access/disclosures, loss of devices/records, and improper disposal incidents were behind 19 of the 29 incidents reported – 65.5% of all incidents reported in March. The main cause of healthcare data breaches in March 2018 was unauthorized access/disclosure incidents. 14 incidents were reported, with theft/loss incidents the second main cause...

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HHS Report Offers Tips to Prevent and Block SamSam Ransomware Attacks
Apr13

HHS Report Offers Tips to Prevent and Block SamSam Ransomware Attacks

The high volume of SamSam ransomware attacks on healthcare and government organizations in recent months has prompted the Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthcare Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (HCCIC) to issue a report of ongoing SamSam ransomware campaigns. The report includes tips to help organizations detect and block SamSam ransomware attacks. There Have Been 10 Major SamSam Ransomware Attacks in the Past 4 Months Since December 2017, there have been 10 major attacks, mostly on government and healthcare organizations in the United States. Additional attacks have been reported in Canada and India. In January 2018, the EHR provider AllScripts experienced an attack that saw its systems taken out of action for several days, preventing around 1,500 medical practices from accessing patient data. In some cases, those practices were prevented from accessing patient data for as long as a week. In March 2018, the City of Atlanta was forced to shut down its IT systems to halt the spread of the ransomware. In that case, the attack leveraged a Windows Server...

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How Long Does It Take to Breach a Healthcare Network?
Apr13

How Long Does It Take to Breach a Healthcare Network?

A recent survey of hackers, incident responders, and penetration testers has revealed the majority can gain access to a targeted system within 15 hours, but more than half of hackers (54%) take less than five hours to gain access to a system, and identify and exfiltrate sensitive data. 61% of Surveyed Hackers Took Less than 15 Hours to Obtain Healthcare Data The data comes from the second annual Nuix Black Report and its survey of 112 hackers and penetration testers, 79% of which were based in the United States. Respondents were asked about the time it takes to conduct attacks and steal data, the motivations for attacks, the techniques used, and the industries that offered the least resistance. While the least protected industries were hospitality, retail, and the food and beverage industry, healthcare organizations were viewed as particularly soft targets. Healthcare, along with law firms, manufacturers, and sports and entertainment companies had below average results and were relatively easy to attack. As Nuix points out, many of the industries that were rated as soft targets are...

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GAO Discovers Inconsistencies in CMS Oversight of Medicare Beneficiary Data Security
Apr12

GAO Discovers Inconsistencies in CMS Oversight of Medicare Beneficiary Data Security

In response to recent data breaches, the chairmen of the U.S Senate Committee on Finance, the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce requested the U.S. Government Accountability Office conduct a study of HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to assess its efforts to protect Medicare beneficiary data accessed by external entities. The study had three main objectives: To determine the major external entities that collect, store, and share Medicare beneficiary data, to determine whether the requirements for protection of Medicare data align with federal guidance, and to assess CMS oversight of the implementation of those requirements. The study revealed the CMS has only established security requirements that align with federal guidance for some external entities and oversight of the implementation of security controls by external entities has been inconsistent. The CMS shares Medicare beneficiary data with three main types of external entities: Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), research organizations, and public or...

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Lack of Security Awareness Training Leaves Healthcare Organizations Exposed to Cyberattacks
Apr09

Lack of Security Awareness Training Leaves Healthcare Organizations Exposed to Cyberattacks

A recent study conducted by the Ponemon Institute on behalf of Merlin International has revealed healthcare organizations are failing to provide sufficient security awareness training to their employees, which is hampering efforts to improve their security posture. Phishing is a major security threat and the healthcare industry is being heavily targeted. Phishing offers threat actors an easy way to bypass healthcare organizations’ security defenses. Threat actors are now using sophisticated tactics to evade detection by security solutions and get their emails delivered. Social engineering techniques are used to fool employees into responding to phishing emails and disclose their login credentials or install malware. Phishing is used in a high percentage of cyberattacks on healthcare organizations. Research conducted by Cofense (formerly PhishMe) suggests as many as 91% of cyberattacks start with a phishing email. While security solutions can be implemented to block the majority of phishing emails from being delivered to end users’ inboxes, it is not possible to block 100% of...

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HIPAA Compliance for Pharmacies
Apr06

HIPAA Compliance for Pharmacies

HIPAA is a federal law that establishes the acceptable uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI), sets standards for the secure storage and transmission of PHI, and gives patients the right to obtain copies of their PHI. HIPAA compliance for pharmacies is not an option. The penalties for failing to comply with HIPAA can be severe. Key Elements of HIPAA Compliance for Pharmacies The combined text of HIPAA Rules published by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights is 115 pages, so covering all elements of HIPAA compliance for pharmacies is beyond the scope of this post; however, some of the key elements of HIPAA compliance for pharmacies have been outlined below. Conduct risk analyses – A comprehensive, organization wide risk analysis must be conducted to identify all risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI. Any risks identified must be subjected to a HIPAA-compliant risk management process. A risk analysis is not a onetime checkbox item. Risk analyses must be conducted regularly, such as when there is a change...

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Alabama Governor Enacts Data Breach Notification Act
Apr04

Alabama Governor Enacts Data Breach Notification Act

Alabama has become the 50th state to require companies to issue breach notifications to individuals whose personal information has been exposed or compromised as a result of a data breach. Governor Kay Ivey signed the act into law on March 28. The effective date is May 1, 2018. The data breach notification law has taken a long time to be enacted although Alabama residents will now have some of the best protections in the country, with the law one of the strictest introduced in any state. While every state now has a data breach notification law that requires notifications to be issued to all individuals impacted by a data breach, only 28% of U.S. states – including Alabama – also require ‘covered entities’ to maintain reasonable security measures to protect the confidentiality of sensitive personally identifying information of state residents. Service providers must also be contractually required to maintain appropriate safeguards. Sensitive personally identifying information is classed as a state resident’s first name or first initial and last name in combination with any of...

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Verizon PHI Breach Report Confirms Healthcare Has Major Problem with Insider Breaches
Apr03

Verizon PHI Breach Report Confirms Healthcare Has Major Problem with Insider Breaches

Verizon has released its annual Protected Health Information Breach Report which delves deep into the main causes of breaches, why they occur, the motivations of internal and external threat actors, and the main threats to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI. For the report, Verizon analyzed 1,368 healthcare data breaches and incidents where protected health information (PHI) was exposed but not necessarily compromised. The data came from 27 countries, although three quarters of the breached entities were based in the United States where there are stricter requirements for reporting PHI incidents. In contrast to all other industry sectors, the healthcare industry is unique as the biggest security threat comes from within. Insiders were responsible for almost 58% of all breaches with external actors confirmed as responsible for just 42% of incidents. The main reason for insider breaches is financial gain. PHI is stolen to commit identity theft, credit card fraud, insurance fraud, and tax fraud. Verizon determined that 48% of all internal incidents were conducted...

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What is the Relationship Between HITECH, HIPAA, and Electronic Health and Medical Records?
Apr02

What is the Relationship Between HITECH, HIPAA, and Electronic Health and Medical Records?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed into law in August 1996, and was updated by the HIPAA Privacy Rule in 2003 and the HIPAA Security Rule in 2005, but how did the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act change HIPAA and what is the relationship between HITECH, HIPAA, and electronic health and medical records? What is the Relationship Between HITECH and HIPAA and Medical Records? Title I of HIPAA is concerned with the portability of health insurance and protecting the rights of workers between jobs to ensure health insurance coverage is maintained, which have nothing to do with the HITECH Act. However, there is a strong relationship between HITECH and HIPAA Title II. Title II of HIPAA includes the administrative provisions, patient privacy protections, and security controls for health and medical records and other forms of protected health information (PHI). One of the main aims of the HITECH Act was to encourage the adoption of electronic health and medical records by creating financial incentives for...

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What is Protected by HIPAA?
Mar31

What is Protected by HIPAA?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is an important legislative Act that requires healthcare organizations that conduct transactions electronically to develop and implement controls to ensure the privacy of patients and security of healthcare data is safeguarded, but specifically, what is protected by HIPAA? What is Protected by HIPAA and How Must PHI be Safeguarded? All HIPAA covered entities should be well aware of the types of data that must be safeguarded in order to comply with HIPAA Rules, but many patients are unsure exactly what is protected by HIPAA. The HIPAA Privacy Rule requires HIPAA covered entities and their business associates to protect virtually all individually identifiable health information that is created, stored, maintained, or transmitted by HIPAA covered entities – typically healthcare providers, health plans and healthcare clearinghouses – and their business associates. The HIPAA Privacy Rule refers to individually identifiable health information as ‘Protected Health Information’ which includes past, present, and future...

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Security Breaches in Healthcare in the Last Three Years
Mar30

Security Breaches in Healthcare in the Last Three Years

There have been 955 major security breaches in healthcare in the last three years that have resulted in the exposure/theft of 135,060,443 healthcare records. More than 41% of the population of the United States have had some of their protected health information exposed as a result of those breaches, which have been occurring at a rate of almost one a day over the past three years. There has been a steady rise in reported security beaches in healthcare in the last three years. In 2015 there were 270 data breaches involving more than 500 records reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. The figure rose to 327 security breaches in 2016, and 342 security breaches in 2017. More healthcare security breaches are being reported than at any other time since HIPAA required covered entities to disclose data breaches, although the number of individuals affected by healthcare data breaches has been declining year-over year for the past three years. In 2015, a particularly bad year for healthcare industry data breaches, 112,107,579 healthcare records were...

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Legislation Changes and New HIPAA Regulations in 2018
Mar29

Legislation Changes and New HIPAA Regulations in 2018

The policy of two out for every new regulation introduced means there are likely to be few, if any, new HIPAA regulations in 2018. However, that does not mean it will be all quiet on the HIPAA front. HHS’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) director Roger Severino has indicated there are some HIPAA changes under consideration. OCR is planning on removing some of the outdated and labor-intensive elements of HIPAA that provide little benefit to patients, although before HIPAA changes are made, OCR will seek feedback from healthcare industry stakeholders. As with previous updates, OCR will submit notices of proposed rulemaking and will seek comment on the proposed changes. Those comments will be carefully considered before any HIPAA changes are made. The full list of proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule have not been made public, although Severino did provide some insight into what can be expected in 2018 at a recent HIPAA summit in Virginia. Severino explained there were three possible changes to HIPAA regulations in 2018, the first relates to enforcement of HIPAA Rules by OCR. Since...

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Study Suggests Improper Disposal of PHI is Commonplace
Mar29

Study Suggests Improper Disposal of PHI is Commonplace

A recent study (published in JAMA) has highlighted just how frequently hospitals are disposing of PHI in an insecure manner. While the study was conducted in Canada, which is not covered by HIPAA, the results highlight an important area of PHI security that is often overlooked. Improper Disposal of PHI is More Common than Previously Thought Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto checked recycled paperwork at five teaching hospitals in Canada. Each of the five hospitals had policies covering the secure disposal of documents containing PHI and separate recycling bins were provided for general paperwork and documents containing sensitive information. The latter were shredded before disposal. Despite the document disposal policies, paperwork containing personally identifiable information (PII) and personal health information (PHI) were often incorrectly placed in the bins. The researchers identified 2,867 documents containing PII and 1,885 items containing personally identifiable health information in the standard recycling bins. 1,042 documents contained high sensitivity...

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South Dakota Enacts Data Breach Notification Law as Congress Considers Federal Breach Notice Bill
Mar28

South Dakota Enacts Data Breach Notification Law as Congress Considers Federal Breach Notice Bill

South Dakota has been slow to introduce legislation to improve protections for consumers affected by breaches of their personal information. Laws have already been introduced in 48 states that require individuals and companies that store personal information to issue notifications to breach victims when that information is compromised. Last week, South Dakota residents were given similar protections to those in place in neighboring states. On March 21, 2018, South Dakota attorney general Marty Jackley issued a statement confirming SB 62 had been signed by Governor Daugaard and will take effect on July 1, 2018. The bipartisan bill requires entities that experience a breach of personal information to issue notifications to affected state residents within 60 days of discovery of the breach – The same time frame as HIPAA. Personal information is classed as the full name or first initial and last name of a state resident in combination with either a government ID number, Social Security number, driver’s license number, credit/debit card number (with an associated code that allows the...

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HIPAA Rules on Contingency Planning
Mar27

HIPAA Rules on Contingency Planning

In its March 2018 cybersecurity newsletter, OCR explained HIPAA Rules on contingency planning and urged healthcare organizations to plan for emergencies to ensure a return to normal operations can be achieved in the shortest possible time frame. A contingency plan is required to ensure that when disaster strikes, organizations know exactly what steps must be taken and in what order. Contingency plans should cover all types of emergencies, such as natural disasters, fires, vandalism, system failures, cyberattacks, and ransomware incidents. The steps that must be taken for each scenario could well be different, especially in the case of cyberattacks vs. natural disasters. The plan should incorporate procedures to follow for specific types of disasters. Contingency planning is not simply a best practice. It is a requirement of the HIPAA Security Rule. Contingency planning should not be considered a onetime checkbox item necessary for HIPAA compliance. It should be an ongoing process with plans regularly checked, updated, and tested to ensure any deficiencies are identified and...

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ATI Physical Therapy Data Breach Impacts 35,000 Patients
Mar22

ATI Physical Therapy Data Breach Impacts 35,000 Patients

ATI Physical Therapy has discovered the protected health information of more than 35,000 patients has potentially been compromised when threat actors gained access to the email accounts of some of its employees. A security breach was identified on January 18, 2018 when ATI Physical Therapy discovered the direct deposit information of some of its employees had been changed in its payroll platform. Prompt action was taken to protect its employees and external forensic investigators were called in to determine the full extent and scope of the breach. The investigation revealed the email accounts of certain employees had been compromised and were accessed by unauthorized individuals between January 9 and January 12, 2018. An analysis of the emails in the accounts revealed they contained the protected health information of tens of thousands of patients. The types of information potentially compromised varied per impacted individual, but may have included names, dates of birth, credit/debit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, state ID numbers, Social Security numbers,...

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Banner Health Anticipates Potential Financial Penalty from OCR over 2016 Cyberattack
Mar22

Banner Health Anticipates Potential Financial Penalty from OCR over 2016 Cyberattack

According to a financial report issued by Banner Health, OCR is investigating the colossal 2016 Banner Health data breach which saw the protected health information of 3.7 million patients exposed. The breach involved Banner Health facilities at 27 locations in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, and Wyoming and resulted in the exposure of highly sensitive protected health information including names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and health insurance information. The attackers gained access to the payment processing system used in its food and beverage outlets with a view to obtaining credit card numbers. However, once access to the network was gained, they also accessed servers containing PHI. Banner Health reports that it has cooperated with OCR’s investigation into the breach and has supplied information as requested. However, OCR was not satisfied with its response and the evidence supplied on its HIPAA compliance efforts. Specifically, OCR was not satisfied with the documentation supplied to demonstrate “past security assessment activities”...

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Jail Terms for HIPAA Violations by Employees
Mar22

Jail Terms for HIPAA Violations by Employees

The penalties for HIPAA violations by employees can be severe, especially those involving the theft of protected health information. HIPAA violations by employees can attract a fine of up to $250,000 with a maximum jail term of 10 years and a 2-year jail term for aggravated identity theft. This month there have been two notable cases of HIPAA violations by employees, one of which has resulted in a fine and imprisonment, with the other likely to result in a longer spell in prison when sentencing takes place in June. Jail Term for Former Transformations Autism Treatment Center Employee In February, a former behavioral analyst at the Transformations Autism Treatment Center (TACT) was discovered to have stolen the protected health information of patients following termination. Jeffrey Luke, 29, of Collierville, TN gained access to a TACT Google Drive account containing the PHI of patients following termination and downloaded the PHI of 300 current and former patients onto his personal computer. Approximately one month after Luke was terminated, TACT discovered patient information had...

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Insider Data Breaches Continue to Plague the Healthcare Industry
Mar21

Insider Data Breaches Continue to Plague the Healthcare Industry

Protenus has published its February Healthcare Breach Barometer Report. The report includes healthcare data breaches reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights or disclosed to the media in February 2018. The report, compiled from data collected from databreaches.net, indicates at least 348,889 healthcare records were confirmed as breached in February, although that figure will be considerably higher as the number of people affected by 11 breaches is not yet known. There were 39 security breaches involving protected health information in February – a slight rise from the 37 breaches reported in January, although the number of records exposed was down from January’s total of 473,807 records. Insider breaches continue to pose problems for healthcare providers with 16/39 incidents (41%) involving insiders. Those incidents resulted in the exposure/theft of 51% of all records confirmed as having been exposed or stolen in February. Protenus notes that 94% of insider breaches were the result of errors by healthcare employees, with only one confirmed...

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How to Become HIPAA Compliant
Mar21

How to Become HIPAA Compliant

If you would like to start doing business with healthcare organizations you will need to know how to become HIPAA compliant, what HIPAA compliance entails, and how you can prove to healthcare organizations that you have implemented all the required safeguards and privacy controls to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of any protected health information you will be provided with or given access to. How to Become HIPAA Compliant There are no shortcuts if you want to become HIPAA compliant. HIPAA compliance means implementing controls and safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information and developing policies and procedures in line with the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (1996), the HIPAA Privacy Rule (2000), the HIPAA Security Rule (2003), the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (2009), and the Omnibus Final Rule (2013). To become HIPAA compliant, you will need to study the full text of HIPAA (45 CFR Parts 160, 162, and 164) – which the Department...

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Healthcare Data Breach Statistics
Mar20

Healthcare Data Breach Statistics

We have compiled healthcare data breach statistics from October 2009 when the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights first started publishing summaries of healthcare data breaches on its website. The healthcare data breach statistics below only include data breaches of 500 or more records as smaller breaches are not published by OCR. The breaches include closed cases and breaches still being investigated by OCR. Our healthcare data breach statistics clearly show there has been an upward trend in data breaches over the past 9 years, with 2017 seeing more data breaches reported than any other year since records first started being published. There have also been notable changes over the years in the main causes of breaches. The loss/theft of healthcare records and electronic protected health information dominated the breach reports between 2009 and 2015, although better policies and procedures and the use of encryption has helped reduce these easily preventable breaches. Our healthcare data breach statistics show the main causes of healthcare data breaches...

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Analysis of February 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches
Mar19

Analysis of February 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches

Our February 2018 healthcare data breach report details the major data breaches reported by healthcare providers, health plans, and business associates in February 2018. Summary of February 2018 Healthcare Data Breaches February may have been a shorter month, but there was an increase in the number of healthcare data breaches reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. In February, HIPAA covered entities and business associates reported 25 breaches – a 19% month on month increase in breaches. While there was a higher breach tally this month, the number of healthcare records exposed as a result of healthcare data breaches fell by more than 100,000. In January 428,643 healthcare records were exposed. February 2018 healthcare data breaches saw 308,780 healthcare records exposed. Largest Healthcare Data Breaches of February 2018 The largest healthcare data breaches reported to the Office for Civil Rights in February are listed below. Covered Entity Covered Entity Type Individuals Affected Type of Breach Location of PHI St. Peter’s Surgery...

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Is Zendesk HIPAA Compliant?
Mar16

Is Zendesk HIPAA Compliant?

Is Zendesk HIPAA compliant? Can Zendesk products be used by healthcare organizations in the United States for communicating with patients? In this post we explore the Zendesk platform and assess whether it has the necessary privacy and security controls to comply with HIPAA and if the company’s products can be used in connection with electronic protected health information. What is Zendesk? Zendesk is a San Francisco based customer service software and support ticketing system provider used by more than 200,000 companies for managing customer queries, providing support, and building customer relationships. The platform incudes Zendesk Support – a call center and ticketing system; Zendesk Chat – a web and mobile messaging system, and the customer service analytics solution Zendesk Insights. Zendesk Privacy and Security Controls Zendesk has implemented physical security controls at its facilities to prevent unauthorized data access and has round the clock surveillance and uses multi-factor authentication. Its network is protected by firewalls, with DoS and DDoS prevention solutions...

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When Did HIPAA Take Effect?
Mar16

When Did HIPAA Take Effect?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was a landmark piece of legislation that was originally intended to simplify the administration of healthcare, eliminate wastage and prevent healthcare fraud, and to ensure insurance coverage was not lost when employees were between jobs. When Did HIPAA Take Effect? HIPAA was signed into law by President Clinton on August 21, 1996, although HIPAA has been updated several times over the past 20 years and many new provisions have been incorporated to improve privacy protections and security to ensure health information remains confidential. The main updates to HIPAA are summarized below. The HIPAA Privacy Rule The HIPAA Privacy Rule was a major update to HIPAA and introduced many of the aspects for which HIPAA is known today. The HIPAA Privacy Rule defined ‘Protected Health Information (PHI), patients were given the right to obtain copies of their protected health information from HIPAA covered entities, and strict rules were introduced on the allowable uses and disclosures of PHI. When did the Privacy Rule of HIPAA Take...

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OIG FISMA Compliance Review of HHS Shows Improvements Made but Vulnerabilities Remain
Mar15

OIG FISMA Compliance Review of HHS Shows Improvements Made but Vulnerabilities Remain

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General has published the findings of its 2017 fiscal review of HHS compliance with the Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014. The FISMA compliance review revealed the HSS is continuing to make improvements to its information security program, although OIG identified several areas of weakness. The findings from the latest FISMA compliance review highlighted similar vulnerabilities and weaknesses to the review conducted for fiscal 2016. A department-wide Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program is being developed by the HHS which will allow it to monitor its networks, information systems, and personnel activity and information security programs have been strengthened since the review was last conducted. However, OIG identified several areas where improvements could be made. Weaknesses and vulnerabilities were found in HHS risk management, identity and access management, configuration management, security training, incident response, contingency planning and information security continuous...

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Survey Reveals 62% of Healthcare Organizations Have Experienced a Data Breach in the Past Year
Mar14

Survey Reveals 62% of Healthcare Organizations Have Experienced a Data Breach in the Past Year

A recent Ponemon Institute survey has revealed 62% of healthcare organizations have experienced a data breach in the past 12 months. More than half of those organizations experienced data loss as a result. The Merlin International sponsored survey was conducted on 627 healthcare industry leaders from hospitals and payer organizations. 67% of respondents worked in hospitals with 100-500 beds and had an estimated 10,000 to 100,000 networked devices. Last year more than 5 million healthcare records were exposed or stolen, and the healthcare was the second most targeted industry behind the business sector. 2017 was the fourth consecutive year that the healthcare industry has been second for data breaches and there are no signs that cyberattacks are likely to reduce over the coming year. Even though there is a high probability of experiencing a cyberattack, 51% of surveyed organizations have yet to implement an incident response program. This lack of preparedness can hamper recovery if a cyberattack is experienced. As the Cost of a Data Breach Study by the Ponemon Institute showed, a...

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What is a HIPAA Violation?
Mar14

What is a HIPAA Violation?

Barely a day goes by without a news report of a hospital, health plan, or healthcare professional violating HIPAA, but what is a HIPAA violation and what happens when a violation occurs? What is a HIPAA Violation? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 is a landmark piece of legislation that was introduced to simplify the administration of healthcare, eliminate wastage, prevent healthcare fraud, and ensure that employees could maintain healthcare coverage when between jobs. There have been notable updates to HIPAA to improve privacy protections for patients and health plan members over the years which help to ensure healthcare data is safeguarded and the privacy of patients is protected. Those updates include the HIPAA Privacy Rule, HIPAA Security Rule, HIPAA Omnibus Rule, and the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule. A HIPAA violation is a failure to comply with any aspect of HIPAA standards and provisions detailed in detailed in 45 CFR Parts 160, 162, and 164. The combined text of all HIPAA regulations published by the Department of Health and Human Services...

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Is it a HIPAA Violation to Email Patient Names?
Mar14

Is it a HIPAA Violation to Email Patient Names?

We have been asked is it a HIPAA violation to email patient names and other protected health information? In answer to this and similar questions, we will clarify how HIPAA relates to email and explain some of the precautions HIPAA covered entities and healthcare employees should take to ensure compliance when using email to send electronic protected health information. Is it a HIPAA Violation to Email Patient Names? Patient names (first and last name or last name and initial) are one of the 18 identifiers classed as protected health information (PHI) in the HIPAA Privacy Rule. HIPAA does not prohibit the electronic transmission of PHI. Electronic communications, including email, are permitted, although HIPAA-covered entities must apply reasonable safeguards when transmitting ePHI to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of data. It is not a HIPAA violation to email patient names per se, although patient names and other PHI should not be included in the subject lines of emails as the information could easily be viewed by unauthorized individuals. Even when messages are protected...

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2018 HIPAA Changes and Enforcement Outlook
Mar13

2018 HIPAA Changes and Enforcement Outlook

Are there likely to be major 2018 HIPAA changes? What does this year have in store in terms of new HIPAA regulations? OCR Director Roger Severino has hinted there could be some 2018 HIPAA changes and that HIPAA enforcement in 2018 is unlikely to slowdown. Are Major 2018 HIPAA Changes Likely? The Trump administration has made it clear that there should be a decrease rather than an increase in regulation in the United States. In January 2017, Trump signed an executive order calling for a reduction in regulation, which was seen to be hampering America’s economic growth. At the time Trump said, “If there’s a new regulation, they have to knock out two. But it goes far beyond that, we’re cutting regulations massively for small business and for large business.” While Trump was not specifically referring to healthcare, it is clear we are currently in a period of deregulation. Trump’s words were recently echoed by Severino at the HIMSS conference who confirmed the HSS understands deregulation in some areas is required before further regulations can be introduced. Therefore, there are...

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PHI of 33,420 BJC Healthcare Patients Exposed on Internet for 8 Months
Mar13

PHI of 33,420 BJC Healthcare Patients Exposed on Internet for 8 Months

The protected health information of 33,420 patients of BJC Healthcare has been accessible on the Internet for eight months without any need for authentication to view the information. BJC Healthcare is one of the largest not-for profit healthcare systems in the United States. The St. Louis-based healthcare organization runs two nationally recognized hospitals in Missouri – Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital along with 13 others. The health system employs more than 31,000 individuals, has over 154,000 hospital admissions and performs more than 175,000 home health visits a year. On January 23, 2018, BJC Healthcare performed a security scan which revealed one of its servers had been misconfigured which allowed sensitive information to be accessed without authentication. Action was immediately taken to reconfigure and secure the server to prevent data from being accessed. The investigation revealed an error had been made configuring the server on May 9, 2017, leaving documents and copies of identification documents accessible. Highly sensitive...

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HIPAA Social Media Rules
Mar12

HIPAA Social Media Rules

HIPAA was enacted several years before social media networks such as Facebook were launched, so there are no specific HIPAA social media rules; however, there are HIPAA laws and standards that apply to social media use by healthcare organizations and their employees. Healthcare organizations must therefore implement a HIPAA social media policy to reduce the risk of privacy violations. There are many benefits to be gained from using social media. Social media channels allow healthcare organizations to interact with patients and get them more involved in their own healthcare. Healthcare organizations can quickly and easily communicate important messages or provide information about new services. Healthcare providers can attract new patients via social media websites. However, there is also considerable potential for HIPAA Rules and patient privacy to be violated on social media networks. So how can healthcare organizations and their employees use social media without violating HIPAA Rules? HIPAA and Social Media The first rule of using social media in healthcare is to never disclose...

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HIMSS Survey Reveals Top Healthcare Security Threats
Mar09

HIMSS Survey Reveals Top Healthcare Security Threats

HIMSS has published the results of its annual healthcare cybersecurity survey, which provides insights into the state of cybersecurity in healthcare and identifies the top healthcare security threats. The HIMSS 2018 cybersecurity survey was conducted on 239 respondents from the healthcare industry between December 2017 and January 2018. The results of the survey were announced at the HIMSS 2018 Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas. 36.8% of respondents had positions in executive management and 37.2% were employed in non-executive management positions. The remaining 25.9% were in non-management positions such as cybersecurity specialists and analysts. 41.2% of respondents were primarily responsible for cybersecurity, 32.6% had some responsibility, and 11.8% sometimes had responsibility for cybersecurity. Most Healthcare Organizations Have Experienced a Significant Security Incident in the Past 12 Months The threat of healthcare cyberattacks is greater than ever and the past 12 months has been a torrid year. In the past 12 months, 75.7% of respondents said they had experienced a...

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Why is HIPAA Important to Patients?
Mar08

Why is HIPAA Important to Patients?

Most Americans have heard of HIPAA and know that the legislation applies to healthcare organizations, but many do not understand why HIPAA is important to patients. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 – or HIPAA – is a federal law that applies to healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses that conduct transactions electronically. HIPAA also applies to vendors – business associates – that perform functions on behalf of HIPAA-covered entities that requires them to have access to protected health information (PHI) or be provided with copies of PHI. (See What is Protected Health Information). HIPAA was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996, although the legislation has had some significant updates over the years, notably the HIPAA Privacy Rule in 2000, the Security Rule in 2003, and the Breach Notification Rule in 2009. (See our HIPAA History page for more information) Initially HIPAA was intended to improve the health insurance system and simplify the administration of...

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Alabama Data Breach Notification Act Passed by State Senate
Mar08

Alabama Data Breach Notification Act Passed by State Senate

The Alabama Data Breach Notification Act (Senate Bill 318) has advanced for consideration by the House of Representatives after being unanimously passed by the Alabama Senate last week. Alabama is one of two states that has yet to introduce legislation that requires companies to issue notifications to individuals whose personal information is exposed in data breaches. The other state – South Dakota – is also considering introducing similar legislation to protect state residents. The Alabama Data Breach Notification Act, proposed by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), requires companies doing business in the state of Alabama to issue notifications to state residents when their sensitive personal information has been exposed and it is reasonably likely to result in breach victims coming to substantial harm. Entities that would be required to comply with the Alabama Data Breach Notification Act are persons, sole proprietorships, partnerships, government entities, corporations, non-profits, trusts, estates, cooperative associations, and other business entities that acquire or use sensitive...

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Is a HIPAA Violation Grounds for Termination?
Mar07

Is a HIPAA Violation Grounds for Termination?

Is a HIPAA violation grounds for termination? What actions are healthcare organizations likely to take if they discover an employee has violated HIPAA Rules? Since the introduction of the HIPAA Enforcement Rule, the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights has been able to pursue financial penalties for HIPAA violations. Organizations discovered to have violated HIPAA Rules or failed to have implemented policies and procedures in line with HIPAA Rules can face severe financial penalties. But what about individual employees who accidentally or deliberately violate HIPAA and patient privacy? Do Most Healthcare Organizations Consider a HIPAA Violation Grounds for Termination? Not all HIPAA violations are equal, although any violation of HIPAA Rules is a serious matter that warrants investigation and action by healthcare organizations. When a HIPAA violation is reported – by an employee, colleague or patient – healthcare organizations will investigate the incident and will attempt to determine whether HIPAA laws were violated, and if so, how the violation occurred, the implications for...

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Is Google Calendar HIPAA Compliant?
Mar07

Is Google Calendar HIPAA Compliant?

Is Google Calendar HIPAA compliant? Can the time management and calendar scheduling service be used by healthcare organizations or would use of the service be considered a violation of HIPAA Rules? This post explores whether Google supports HIPAA compliance for the Google Calendar service.   Google Calendar was launched in 2006 and is part of Google’s G Suite of products and services. Google Calendar could potentially be used for scheduling appointments, which may require protected health information to be added. Uploading any protected health information to the cloud is not permitted by the HIPAA Privacy Rule unless certain HIPAA requirements have first been satisfied. A risk analysis must be conducted to assess potential risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI. Risks must be subjected to a HIPAA-compliant risk management process and reduced to an acceptable level. Access controls must be implemented to ensure that ePHI can only be viewed by authorized individuals, appropriate security controls must be in place to prevent unauthorized disclosures, and an...

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EmblemHealth Fined $575,000 by NY Attorney General for HIPAA Breach
Mar07

EmblemHealth Fined $575,000 by NY Attorney General for HIPAA Breach

A 2016 mailing error by EmblemHealth that saw the Health Insurance Claim Numbers of 81,122 plan members printed on the outside of envelopes has resulted in a $575,000 settlement with the New York Attorney General. While all mailings include a unique patient identifier on the envelope, in this case the potential for harm was considerable as Health Insurance Claim numbers are formed using the Social Security numbers of plan members. Announcing the settlement, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman explained that Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Rules require HIPAA covered entities to implement administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to ensure the confidentiality of patients’ and plan members’ protected health information. The error that saw Social Security numbers exposed violated HIPAA Rules. EmblemHealth failed to comply with “many standards and procedural specifications” required by HIPAA. Attorney General Schneiderman also said that printing Social Security numbers on the outside of envelopes violated New York General Business Law §...

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What is HIPAA Certification?
Mar06

What is HIPAA Certification?

Many vendors would like HIPAA certification to confirm they are fully compliant with HIPAA Rules and understand all aspects of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but is it possible to obtain HIPAA certification to confirm HIPAA compliance? What is HIPAA Certification? In an ideal world, HIPAA certification would confirm that all aspects of HIPAA Rules are understood and being followed. If a third-party vendor such as a transcription company was HIPAA certified, it would make it easier for healthcare organizations looking for such as service to select an appropriate vendor. Many companies claim they have been certified as HIPAA compliant or in some cases, that they are ‘HIPAA Certified’. However, ‘HIPAA Certified’ is a misnomer. There is no official, legally recognized HIPAA compliance certification process or accreditation. There is a good reason why this is the case. HIPAA compliance is an ongoing process. An organization may be determined to be in compliance with HIPAA Rules today, but that does not mean that they will be tomorrow or at some point in...

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How to Report a HIPAA Violation Anonymously
Mar06

How to Report a HIPAA Violation Anonymously

In this post we explain how to report a HIPAA violation anonymously if you feel your (or someone else’s) privacy has been violated of if HIPAA Rules are not being followed in your organization. When Can an Alleged HIPAA Violation be Reported? Most healthcare organizations go to great lengths to ensure they are in compliance with HIPAA Rules, but occasionally HIPAA regulations are violated by management or employees. In such cases, a complaint can be lodged with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) – the main enforcer of HIPAA Rules. However, complaints will only result in action being taken if the complaint is submitted within 180 days of the date of discovery that HIPAA Rules were violated. In limited cases, when there is ‘good cause’ that it was not possible to file a complaint within 180 days, an extension may be granted. Note that OCR cannot investigate any alleged violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule that occurred before April 14, 2003 or Security Rule violations that occurred before April 20, 2005 because compliance with those...

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New York Surgery & Endoscopy Center Discovers 135,000-Record Data Breach
Mar05

New York Surgery & Endoscopy Center Discovers 135,000-Record Data Breach

A malware infection at St. Peter’s Surgery & Endoscopy Center in New York has potentially allowed hackers to gain access to the medical records of almost 135,000 patients. This is the second largest healthcare data breach of 2018, the largest to hit New York state since the 3,466,120-record data breach at Newkirk Products, Inc. in August 2016, and the fifth largest healthcare data breach in New York since the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights started publishing data breach summaries in October 2009. The data breach at St. Peter’s Surgery & Endoscopy Center was discovered on January 8, 2018: The same day as hackers gained access to its server. The rapid detection of the malware limited the time the hackers had access to the server and potentially prevented patients’ data from being viewed or copied. However, while no evidence of data access or data theft was discovered, it was not possible to rule either out with a high degree of certainty. In its substitute branch notice, St. Peter’s Surgery & Endoscopy Center says the servers it uses...

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Is Google Slides HIPAA Compliant?
Mar05

Is Google Slides HIPAA Compliant?

Is Google Slides HIPAA compliant? Can Google Slides be used by healthcare organizations without violating HIPAA Rules? This post explores whether Google Slides is HIPAA compliant and whether it is possible to use the presentation editor in connection with electronic protected health information. Google Slides is a presentation editor that allows users to create slide shows, training material, and project presentations. It is an ideal option for users who do not regularly create slide shows or presentations and do not have a software package that offers the same functionality. Google Slides is available free of charge for consumers to use and is equivalent to Microsoft’s PowerPoint. Healthcare organizations that are looking to create training courses and slideshows that involve the use of data protected by HIPAA need to exercise caution. Use of Google Slides with electronic protected health information could potentially violate HIPAA Rules and patient privacy. That could all too easily result in a financial penalty. Google Slides is a web-based presentation program that is not...

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Window Envelope Privacy Breach Exposes ID Numbers of 70,320 Tufts Health Plan Members
Mar02

Window Envelope Privacy Breach Exposes ID Numbers of 70,320 Tufts Health Plan Members

Tufts Health Plan is alerting 70,320 of its members that their health plan member ID numbers have been exposed. A mailing vendor used by Tufts Health Plan sent Tufts Medicare Preferred ID cards to Medicare Advantage members between December 11, 2017 and January 2, 2018. Window envelopes were used which naturally allowed plan members’ names and addresses to be seen, but Tufts Health Plan member IDs were also visible through the plastic windows of the envelopes. The mailing error was discovered by Tufts Health Plan on January 18. Tufts Health Plan notes that its member IDs are not comprised of Social Security numbers or Medicare numbers, but potentially the member ID numbers could be misused by individuals to receive services covered by the health plan. Legal experts were consulted about the breach to assess the potential risk to plan members. The risk of misuse of the numbers is believed to be very low as the only individuals likely to see the member IDs would be employees of the postal service. Plan members have been told that in the unlikely event that their member IDs are misused...

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Hacking Responsible for 83% of Breached Healthcare Records in January
Mar01

Hacking Responsible for 83% of Breached Healthcare Records in January

The latest installment of the Protenus Healthcare Breach Barometer report has been released. Protenus reports that overall, at least 473,807 patient records were exposed or stolen in January, although the number of individuals affected by 11 of the 37 breaches is not yet known. The actual total is likely to be considerably higher, possibly taking the final total to more than half a million records. The report shows insiders are continuing to cause problems for healthcare organizations. Insiders were the single biggest cause of healthcare data breaches in January. Out of the 37 healthcare data breaches reported in January 12 were attributed to insiders – 32% of all data breaches. While insiders were the main cause of breaches, the incidents affected a relatively low number of individuals – just 1% of all records breached. Insiders exposed 6,805 patient records, although figures could only be obtained for 8 of the 12 breaches. 7 incidents were attributed to insider error and five were due to insider wrongdoing. Protenus has drawn attention to one particular insider breach. A nurse...

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Medical University of South Carolina’s Hard Line on HIPAA Violations Sees 13 Fired in a Year
Feb27

Medical University of South Carolina’s Hard Line on HIPAA Violations Sees 13 Fired in a Year

According to a recent report in the Post and Courier, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) terminated 13 employees last year for violating HIPAA Rules by snooping on patient records. In total, there were 58 privacy violations in 2017 at MUSC, all of which have been reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. All of the breaches affected only small numbers of patients. Out of the 58 breaches, 11 incidents were categorized as snooping on medical records. Other breaches were unauthorized disclosures such as when the health information of a patient is accidentally sent or faxed to the wrong person. Over the past five years, there have been 307 breaches detected at MUSC, resulting in 30 members of non-physician staff being fired. None of the breaches have been listed on the OCR breach portal, which only shows breaches impacting 500 or more individuals. Under HIPAA Rules, all PHI breaches must be reported, although it is only large breaches of more than 500 records that are made public and are detailed on the breach portal. The revelations...

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OPM Alleges Health Net Refused to Fully Comply with Recent Security Audit
Feb26

OPM Alleges Health Net Refused to Fully Comply with Recent Security Audit

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Office of the Inspector General Office of Audits (OIG) has issued a Flash Audit Alert alleging Health Net of California has refused to cooperate with a recent security audit. Health Net provides benefits to federal employees, and under its contract with OPM, is required to submit to audits. OPM has been conducting security audits on FEHBP insurance carriers for the past 10 years, which includes scanning for vulnerabilities that could potentially be exploited to gain access to the PHI of FEHBP members. When OPM conducts audits, it is focused on the information systems that are used to access or store the data of Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) members. However, OPM points out that many insurance carriers do not segregate the data of FEHBP members from the data of commercial and other Federal customers. Audits of technical infrastructure need to be conducted on all parts of the system that have a logical or physical nexus with FEHBP data. Consequently, systems containing data other than that of FEHBP members will similarly...

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Is Google Sheets HIPAA Compliant?
Feb26

Is Google Sheets HIPAA Compliant?

Is Google Sheets HIPAA compliant? Can HIPAA-covered entities use Google Sheets to create, view, or share spreadsheets containing identifiable protected health information or would using Google Sheets violate HIPAA Rules? In this post we assess whether Google Sheets supports HIPAA compliance.  Under HIPAA Rules, healthcare organizations are required to implement safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI. While it is straightforward to implement controls internally to keep data secure, oftentimes third parties are contracted to provide services that require access to PHI. They too must abide by HIPAA Rules covering privacy, security, and breach notifications. A third-party that requires access to PHI – or copies of health data – to perform services on behalf of a covered entity is considered a business associate. A covered entity and business associate must enter into a contract – a business associate agreement – in which the business associate agrees to comply with certain aspects of the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification...

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Is IBM Cloud HIPAA Compliant?
Feb23

Is IBM Cloud HIPAA Compliant?

Is IBM Cloud HIPAA compliant? Is the cloud platform suitable for healthcare organizations in the United States to host infrastructure, develop health applications and store files? In this post we assess whether the IBM Cloud supports HIPAA compliance and the platform’s suitability for use by healthcare organizations. IBM offers a cloud platform to help organizations develop their mobile and web services, build native cloud apps, and host their infrastructure along with a wide range of cloud-based services for the capture, analysis, and processing of data. The platform has already been adopted by many healthcare providers, payers, and health plans, and applications and portals have been developed to provide patients with better access to their health information. IBM Cloud Security IBM is a leader in the field of network and data security, and its expertise has meant its cloud platform is highly secure. Security is built into the core of all of the firm’s software and services to ensure that sensitive data remains confidential and cannot be accessed by unauthorized individuals. Its...

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1,900 UVA Patients’ PHI Accessed by Hacker Behind FruitFly Malware
Feb22

1,900 UVA Patients’ PHI Accessed by Hacker Behind FruitFly Malware

Almost 1,900 patients of University of Virginia Health System are being notified that an unauthorized individual has gained access to their medical records as a result of a malware infection. The malware had been loaded onto the devices used by a physician at UVa Medical Center. When medical records were accessed by the physician, the malware allowed the hacker to view the data in real time. The malware was first loaded onto the physician’s electronic devices on May 3, 2015, with access possible until December 27, 2016. Over those 19 months, the hacker was able to view the medical records of 1,882 patients. The types of information seen by the hacker included names, addresses, dates of birth, diagnoses, and treatment information, according to a UVa spokesperson. Financial information and Social Security numbers were not exposed as they were not accessible by the physician. Access to the protected health information of its patients stopped in late 2016, although UVa did not discover the breach for almost a year. UVa was notified of the security breach by the FBI on December 23,...

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Updated Colorado Data Breach Notification Advances: Reporting Period Cut to 30 Days
Feb22

Updated Colorado Data Breach Notification Advances: Reporting Period Cut to 30 Days

In January, a new data breach notification bill was introduced in Colorado that proposed updates to state laws to improve protections for residents affected by data breaches. The bill introduced a maximum time frame of 45 days for companies to notify individuals whose personal information was exposed or stolen as a result of a data breach. The definition of personal information was also updated to include a much wider range of information including data covered by HIPAA – medical information, health insurance information, and biometric data. Last week, Colorado’s House Committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs unanimously passed an updated version of the bill, which has now been passed to the Committee on Appropriations for consideration. The updated bill includes further new additions to the list of data elements classed as personal information – passport numbers, military, and student IDs. There has also been a shortening of the time frame organizations have to issue notifications. Instead of the 45 days proposed in the original bill, the time frame has been cut to just...

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Research Institutions Given Additional 6 Months to Comply with Updated Common Rule
Feb21

Research Institutions Given Additional 6 Months to Comply with Updated Common Rule

Updates to the Common Rule – The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects – that were initially due to come into effect on January 19, 2018 have been delayed by 6 months, giving research organizations more time to comply with the new provisions. The new compliance date is July 19, 2018, although the provision covering cooperative research still has a compliance date of Jan 20, 2020. Several healthcare organizations, including the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), the Associated of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and the Association of American Universities (AAU), called for the compliance date to be pushed back due to uncertainty surrounding the final rule. A delay would allow institutions additional time to ensure compliance and would allow federal agencies more time to issue guidance to researchers to help them implement the updated regulations. 16 federal departments, including the Department of Health and Human Services, made revisions to the Common Rule. In a notice of proposed Rulemaking, the need for the delay to the compliance date was...

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AJMC Study Reveals Common Characteristics of Hospital Data Breaches
Feb20

AJMC Study Reveals Common Characteristics of Hospital Data Breaches

The American Journal of Managed Care has published a study of hospital data breaches in the United States. The aim of the study was to identify common characteristics of hospital data breaches, what the biggest problem areas are, the main causes of security incidents and the types of information most at risk. The study revealed hospitals are the most commonly breached type of healthcare provider, accounting for approximately 30% of all large healthcare security incidents reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights by providers between 2009 and 2016. Over that 7-year time period there were 215 breaches reported by 185 nonfederal acute care hospitals and 30 hospitals experienced multiple breaches of 500 or more healthcare records. One hospital experienced 4 separate breaches in the past 7 years, five hospitals had 3 breaches, and 24 hospitals experienced 2 breaches. In addition to hospitals experiencing the highest percentage of security breaches, those breaches also resulted in the theft/exposure of the highest number of health records. While...

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Is Yammer HIPAA Compliant?
Feb20

Is Yammer HIPAA Compliant?

Is Yammer HIPAA compliant? Does the platform incorporate all the necessary administrative and technical controls to meet HIPAA requirements? This post explores whether Yammer supports HIPAA compliance and assesses whether the platform can be used by healthcare organizations without violating HIPAA Rules. What is Yammer? Yammer has been a standalone social networking and collaboration platform since 2008. Its popularity and potential were noticed by Microsoft, which purchased the company in 2012. Today the platform is used by 85% of Fortune 500 companies. The freemium platform allows company employees to communicate with each other, collaborate on projects, share knowledge, and ask and get quick answers from co-workers.  Due to similarities in its architecture and functionality, it is often referred to as ‘Twitter for companies’. In contrast to other social media platforms, communications are private and are not published online. The platform can be kept as a strictly internal communication and collaboration tool, although it is also possible to use the platform to communicate with...

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What Covered Entities Should Know About Cloud Computing and HIPAA Compliance
Feb19

What Covered Entities Should Know About Cloud Computing and HIPAA Compliance

Healthcare organizations can benefit greatly from transitioning to the cloud, but it is essential to understand the requirements for cloud computing to ensure HIPAA compliance. In this post we explain some important considerations for healthcare organizations looking to take advantage of the cloud, HIPAA compliance considerations when using cloud services for storing, processing, and sharing ePHI, and we will dispel some of the myths about cloud computing and HIPAA compliance. Myths About Cloud Computing and HIPAA Compliance There are many common misconceptions about the cloud and HIPAA compliance, which in some cases prevent healthcare organizations from taking full advantage of the cloud, and in others could result in violations of HIPAA Rules. Some of the common myths about cloud computing and HIPAA compliance are detailed below: Use of a ‘HIPAA compliant’ cloud service provider will ensure HIPAA Rules are not violated False: A cloud service provider can incorporate all the necessary safeguards to ensure the service or platform can be used in a HIPAA compliant manner, but it is...

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January 2018 Healthcare Data Breach Report
Feb14

January 2018 Healthcare Data Breach Report

Our January 2018 Healthcare Data Breach Report details the healthcare security incidents reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights in January 2018. There were 21 security breaches reported to OCR in January which is a considerable improvement on the 39 incidents reported in December 2017. Last month saw 428,643 healthcare records exposed. While there was a 46.15% drop in the number of healthcare data breaches reported in January month over month, 87,022 more records were exposed or stolen than in December. January was the third consecutive month where the number of breached records increased month over month. The mean breach size in January was 20,412 records – very similar to the mean breach size in December 2017 (20,487 records). However, the high mean value was due to a particularly large breach of 279,865 records reported by Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. In January, the healthcare data breaches reported were far less severe than in December. In January the median breach size was 1,500 records. In December it was...

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Is eFileCabinet HIPAA Compliant?
Feb14

Is eFileCabinet HIPAA Compliant?

eFileCabinet is a document management and storage solution for businesses that offers on-site and cloud storage, but is the service suitable for the healthcare industry? Is eFileCabinet HIPAA compliant or will using the platform be considered a violation of HIPAA Rules? What are Document Management Systems? Document management systems allow organizations to carefully manage electronic documents and store them securely in one location. With huge volumes of documents being created, such systems take the stress out of document management and can help HIPAA covered entities share documents containing ePHI securely and avoid HIPAA violations. There are many document management systems on the market, but not all support HIPAA compliance, so what about eFileCabinet? Is eFileCabinet HIPAA compliant? eFileCabinet Security and Privacy Controls Security controls include the encryption of data in transit and at rest with 256-bit encryption. Sensitive data can be securely shared with third-parties and remote employees via the company’s SecureDrawer feature. SecureDrawer allows files to be...

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$100,000 Settlement Shows HIPAA Obligations Don’t End When a Business Closes
Feb14

$100,000 Settlement Shows HIPAA Obligations Don’t End When a Business Closes

HIPAA covered entities and their business associates must abide by HIPAA Rules, yet when businesses close the HIPAA obligations do not end. The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has made this clear with a $100,000 penalty for FileFax Inc., for violations that occurred after the business had ceased trading. FileFax is a Northbrook, IL-based firm that offers medical record storage, maintenance, and delivery services for HIPAA covered entities. The firm ceased trading during the course of OCRs investigation into potential HIPAA violations. An investigation was launched following an anonymous tip – received on February 10, 2015 – about an individual that had taken documents containing protected health information to a recycling facility and sold the paperwork. That individual was a “dumpster diver”, not an employee of FileFax. OCR determined that the woman had taken files to the recycling facility on February 6 and 9 and sold the paperwork to the recycling firm for cash. The paperwork, which included patients’ medical records, was left unsecured at the recycling facility. In...

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Is Box HIPAA Compliant?
Feb13

Is Box HIPAA Compliant?

Is Box HIPAA compliant? Can Box be used by healthcare organizations for the storage of documents containing protected health information or would doing so be a violation of HIPAA Rules? An assessment of the security controls of the Box cloud storage and content management service and its suitability for use in healthcare. What is Box? Box is a cloud storage and content management service that supports collaboration and file-sharing. Users can share files, invite others to view, edit or upload content. Box can be used for personal use; however, businesses need to sign up for either a business, enterprise, or elite account. Is Box Covered by the Conduit Exception Rule? The HIPAA conduit exception rule was introduced to allow HIPAA covered entities to use certain communications channels without having to obtain a business associate agreement. The conduit exception rule applies to telecoms companies and Internet service providers that act as conduits through which data flows. Cloud storage services are not covered under the HIPAA conduit exception rule, even if those entities claim...

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Healthcare Industry Scores Poorly on Employee Security Awareness
Feb13

Healthcare Industry Scores Poorly on Employee Security Awareness

A recent report published by security awareness training company MediaPro has revealed there is still a lack of preparedness to deal with common cyberattack scenarios and privacy and security threats are still not fully understood by healthcare professionals. For MediaPro’s 2017 State of Privacy and Security Awareness Report, the firm surveyed 1,009 US healthcare industry employees to assess their level of security awareness. Respondents were asked questions about common privacy and security threats and were asked to provide answers on several different threat scenarios to determine how they would respond to real world threats. Based on the responses, MediaPro assigned respondents to one of three categories. Heroes were individuals who scored highly and displayed a thorough understanding of privacy and security threats by answering 93.5%-100% of questions correctly. Novices showed a reasonable understanding of threats, answering between 77.4% and 90.3% of answers correctly. The lowest category of ‘Risks’ was assigned to individuals with poor security awareness, who scored 74.2% or...

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Is Ademero HIPAA Compliant?
Feb12

Is Ademero HIPAA Compliant?

Ademero is a document management software (DMS) provider whose platform helps businesses keep track of large quantities of documents and transition to a paperless environment, but is Ademero HIPAA compliant? Can its DMS be used by healthcare organizations without violating HIPAA Rules? Ademero and HIPAA The HIPAA Security Rule includes required and addressable implementation specifications. Any implementation specification that is required must be implemented to comply with HIPAA Rules. Addressable implementation specifications are not required, strictly speaking. Those implementation specifications include some flexibility. For instance, data encryption is not a required element, but that does not mean it can be ignored. If the decision is taken not to encrypt data that is acceptable provided that decision was based on a risk analysis and the decision not to use encryption is documented. Alternative controls must also be put in place that provide an equivalent level of protection. Software solutions that support HIPAA compliance will have appropriate controls in place to satisfy...

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How Many HIPAA Violations in 2017 Resulted in Financial Penalties?
Feb11

How Many HIPAA Violations in 2017 Resulted in Financial Penalties?

We are often asked about healthcare data breaches and HIPAA violations and two of the most recent questions are how many HIPAA violations in 2017 resulted in data breaches and how many HIPAA violations occurred in 2017. How Many HIPAA Violations Occurred in 2017? The problem with determining how many HIPAA violations occurred in 2017 is many violations are not reported, and out of those that are, it is only the HIPAA breaches that impact more than 500 individuals that are published by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights on its breach portal – often incorrectly referred to as the “Wall of Shame”. To call it a ‘Wall of Shame’ is not fair on healthcare organizations because the breach reports show organizations that have experienced data breaches, NOT organizations that have violated HIPAA Rules. Even organizations with multi-million-dollar cybersecurity budgets, mature security defenses, and advanced employee security awareness training programs can experience data breaches. All it takes if for a patch not to be applied immediately or an employee to...

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Texas HB300 Compliance
Feb10

Texas HB300 Compliance

Texas HB300 (Texas House Bill 300) was signed into law by State governor Rick Perry in June 2011. The Bill made significant changes to state laws covering the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI) for individuals and organizations that assemble, collect, analyze, store, or transmit PHI. The Texas HB300 compliance date was September 1, 2012. Texas HB300 Introduced Stricter Privacy and Security Protections than HIPAA The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) already requires covered entities (healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses) and business associates of HIPAA-covered entities to implement safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI and protect the privacy of patients and health plan members. Texas HB300 takes those requirements a step further, introducing even stricter requirements for covered entities, which under the new laws, also includes individuals and organizations not covered by HIPAA Rules. The existing laws updated by Texas HB300 were: Texas Health Code,...

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Massachusetts Online Breach Reporting Tool Launched: Data Breaches Soon to Be Publicly Listed
Feb02

Massachusetts Online Breach Reporting Tool Launched: Data Breaches Soon to Be Publicly Listed

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has announced the launch of a new online data breach reporting tool. The aim is to make it as easy as possible for breached entities to submit breach notifications to the Attorney General’s office. Under Massachusetts data breach notification law (M.G.L. c. 93H), organizations experiencing a breach of personal information must submit a notification to the Massachusetts attorney general’s office as soon as it is practicable to do so and without unnecessary delay. Breaches must also be reported to the Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) and notifications must be issued to affected individuals. “Data breaches are damaging, costly and put Massachusetts residents at risk of identity theft and financial fraud – so it’s vital that businesses come forward quickly after a breach to inform consumers and law enforcement,” said Healey. “This new feature allows businesses to more efficiently report data breaches so we can take action and share information with the public.” Regarding the latter, the Mass. Attorney...

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$3.5 Million Settlement to Resolve HIPAA Violations That Contributed to Five Data Breaches
Feb01

$3.5 Million Settlement to Resolve HIPAA Violations That Contributed to Five Data Breaches

The first HIPAA settlement of 2018 has been announced by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Fresenius Medical Care North America (FMCNA) has agreed to pay OCR $3.5 million to resolve multiple potential HIPAA violations that contributed to five separate data breaches in 2012. The breaches were experienced at five separate covered entities, each of which was owned by FMCNA. Those breached entities were: Bio-Medical Applications of Florida, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Duval Facility in Jacksonville, Florida (FMC Duval) Bio-Medical Applications of Alabama, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Magnolia Grove in Semmes, Alabama (FMC Magnolia Grove) Renal Dimensions, LLC d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Ak-Chin in Maricopa, Arizona (FMC Ak-Chin) Fresenius Vascular Care Augusta, LLC (FVC Augusta) WSKC Dialysis Services, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Blue Island Dialysis (FMC Blue Island) Breaches Experienced by FMCNA HIPAA Covered Entities The five security breaches were experienced by the FMCNA covered entities over a period of four months...

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Aetna Agrees to Pay $1.15 Million Settlement to Resolve NY Attorney General Data Breach Case
Jan25

Aetna Agrees to Pay $1.15 Million Settlement to Resolve NY Attorney General Data Breach Case

Last July, Aetna sent a mailing to members in which details of HIV medications were clearly visible through the plastic windows of envelopes, inadvertently disclosing highly sensitive HIV information to individuals’ house mates, friends, families, and loved ones. Two months later, a similar privacy breach occurred. This time the mailing related to a research study regarding atrial fibrillation (AFib) in which the term IMACT-AFIB was visible through the window of the envelope. Anyone who saw the envelope could have deduced the intended recipient had an AFib diagnosis. The July breach triggered a class action lawsuit which was recently settled by Aetna for $17.2 million. Aetna must now also cover a $1.15 million settlement with the New York Attorney General to resolve violations of federal and state laws. Attorney General Schneiderman launched an investigation following the breach of HIV information in July, which violated the privacy of 2,460 Aetna members in New York. The September privacy breach was discovered during the course of that investigation. 163 New York Aetna members had...

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Kansas Attorney General Fines Healthcare Provider for Failing to Protect Patient Records
Jan25

Kansas Attorney General Fines Healthcare Provider for Failing to Protect Patient Records

The Topeka, KS-based healthcare company Pearlie Mae’s Compassion and Care LLC and its owners have been fined by the Kansas Attorney General for failing to protect patient and employee records. The owners have agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty of $8,750. The HITECH Act gave attorneys general the authority to enforce HIPAA rules and take action against HIPAA-covered entities and business associates that are discovered not to be in compliance with HIPAA regulations. Only a handful of state attorneys general have exercised those rights, with many opting to pursue privacy violations under state laws. In this case, Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued the civil monetary penalty for violations of the Wayne Owen Act, which is part of the Kansas Consumer Protection Act. Special agents of the Kansas attorney general’s office were assisting the Topeka Police Department execute a search warrant in June 2017 at the home of Ann Marie Kaiser, one of the owners of Pearlie Mae’s Compassion and Care. Kaiser’s home was used as an office location for the company. While at the property, the...

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Senate Attorney Judiciary Committee Advances South Dakota Data Breach Notification Bill
Jan24

Senate Attorney Judiciary Committee Advances South Dakota Data Breach Notification Bill

The Senate Attorney Judiciary Committee in South Dakota has overwhelmingly voted in favor of introducing data breach notification legislation. The bill, introduced by the Committee on Judiciary at the request of the Attorney General Marty Jackley, advanced after a 7-0 vote. Currently there are only two states in the US that have yet to introduce data breach legislation to protect state residents. With South Dakota now looking likely to introduce new protections for state residents, Alabama looks like it will be the only state lacking a data breach notification law. The Bill – South Dakota Senate Bill No. 62 – requires notifications to be issued to state residents and the Attorney General following a breach that impacts 250 or more state residents. The breach notifications would need to be issued without unnecessary delay and no later than 45 days following the discovery of a breach, unless a delay is requested by law enforcement. Breach notifications would not be required if the breached entity, along with the attorney general, determines that consumers would be unlikely to be...

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Analysis of Healthcare Data Breaches in 2017
Jan24

Analysis of Healthcare Data Breaches in 2017

A summary and analysis of healthcare data breaches in 2017 has been published by Protenus. Data for the report is obtained from Databreaches.net, which tracks healthcare data breaches reported to OCR, the media, and other sources. The 2017 breach report gives an indication of the state of healthcare cybersecurity.  So how has 2017 been? There Were at Least 477 Healthcare Data Breaches in 2017 In some respects, 2017 was a good year. The super-massive data breaches of 2015 were not repeated, and even the large-scale breaches of 2016 were avoided. However, healthcare data breaches in 2017 occurred at rate of more than one per day. There were at least 477 healthcare data breaches in 2017 according to the report. While all those breaches have been reported via one source or another, details of the nature of all the breaches is not known. It is also unclear at this stage exactly how many healthcare records were exposed. Numbers have only been obtained for 407 of the breaches. There was a slight increase (6%) in reported breaches in 2017, up from 450 incidents in 2016. However, there was...

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Colorado Considers New Privacy and Data Breach Legislation
Jan23

Colorado Considers New Privacy and Data Breach Legislation

Colorado is the latest state to consider changing its privacy and data breach notification laws to improve protections for state residents. The legislation has been proposed by a bipartisan group of legislators, and if passed, would make considerable changes to existing state laws. The proposed legislation applies to personally identifying information. The changes would see the following information included in the definition of PII: Full name or last name and initial in combination with any of the following data elements: Personal ID numbers, Social Security numbers, state ID numbers, state or government driver’s license numbers, passport numbers, biometric data, passwords and pass codes, employment, student and military IDs, financial transaction devices, health information, and health insurance information. Usernames/email addresses, financial account numbers, and credit/debit card numbers are also included, if they are compromised along with other information that allows account access or use. A breach would not be deemed to have occurred if the PII is encrypted, unless the key...

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Analysis of Q4 2017 Healthcare Security Breaches
Jan22

Analysis of Q4 2017 Healthcare Security Breaches

Q4, 2017 saw a 13% reduction in healthcare security breaches reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. There were 99 data breaches reported in Q3, 2017. In Q4, there were 86 security breaches reported. There were 27 healthcare security breaches reported in September, following by a major decline in breaches in November, when 21 incidents were reported. However, December saw a significant uptick in incidents with 38 reported breaches. Accompanied by the quarterly decline in security incidents was a marked decrease in the severity of breaches. In Q3, there were 8 data breaches reported that impacted more than 50,000 individuals. In Q4, no breaches on that scale were reported. The largest incident in Q4 impacted 47,000 individuals.  Largest Q4, 2017 Healthcare Security Breaches   Covered Entity Entity Type Number of Records Breached Cause of Breach Oklahoma Department of Human Services Health Plan 47000 Hacking/IT Incident Henry Ford Health System Healthcare Provider 43563 Theft Coplin Health Systems Healthcare Provider 43000 Theft Pulmonary...

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HIPAA Covered Entities Urged to Address Spectre and Meltdown Chip Vulnerabilities
Jan19

HIPAA Covered Entities Urged to Address Spectre and Meltdown Chip Vulnerabilities

The Office for Civil Rights has sent an email update on the Spectre and Meltdown chip vulnerabilities, urging HIPAA-covered entities to mitigate the vulnerabilities as part of their risk management processes. The failure to address the computer chip flaws could place the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information at risk. HIPAA-covered entities have been advised to read the latest updates on the Spectre and Meltdown chip vulnerabilities issued by the Healthcare Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (HCCIC). What are Spectre and Meltdown? Spectre and Meltdown are computer chip vulnerabilities present in virtually all computer processors manufactured in the past 10 years. The vulnerabilities could potentially be exploited by malicious actors to bypass data access protections and obtain sensitive data, including passwords and protected health information. Meltdown is an attack that exploits a hardware vulnerability (CVE-2017-5754) by tricking the CPU into speculatively loading data marked as unreadable or “privileged,” allowing...

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Summary of Healthcare Data Breaches in December 2017
Jan18

Summary of Healthcare Data Breaches in December 2017

There was a sharp rise in healthcare data breaches in December, reversing a two-month downward trend. There were 38 healthcare data breaches in December 2017 that impacted more than 500 individuals: An increase of 81% from last month.     Unsurprisingly given the sharp increase in reported breaches, the number of records exposed in December also increased month over month. The records of 341,621 individuals were exposed or stolen in December: An increase of 219% from last month.     December saw a similar pattern of breaches to past months, with healthcare providers experiencing the most data breaches; however, there was a notable increase in breaches reported by health plans in December – rising from 2 in November to six in December.   Causes of Healthcare Data Breaches in December 2017 As was the case last month, hacking/IT incidents and unauthorized access/disclosures were the most common causes of healthcare data breaches in December, although there was a notable increase in theft/loss incidents involving portable electronic devices and paper records.     While hacking...

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Aetna Settles Class Action Lawsuit Filed by Victims of HIV Status Data Breach
Jan18

Aetna Settles Class Action Lawsuit Filed by Victims of HIV Status Data Breach

Aetna has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit filed by victims of a mailing error that resulted in details of HIV medications prescribed to patients being visible through the clear plastic windows of the envelopes. Aetna was not directly responsible for the mailing, instead an error was made by a third-party vendor. For some of the patients, the letters had slipped inside the envelope revealing the patient had been prescribed HIV drugs. In many cases, those envelopes were viewed by flat mates, family members, neighbors, friends, and other individuals, thus disclosing each patient’s HIV information. Is not known how many patients had their HIV information disclosed, although the mailing was sent to 13,487 individuals. Some of the patients were being prescribed medications to treat HIV, others were taking the medication as Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent contracting the disease. Many of the patients who were outed as a result of the breach have faced considerable hardship and discrimination. Several patients have had to seek alternative accommodation after been forced...

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67% of CISOs Expect a Cyberattack or Data Breach in 2018
Jan17

67% of CISOs Expect a Cyberattack or Data Breach in 2018

The perceived risk of a cyberattack or data breach occurring has increased year on year, according to a new survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute. The Opus-sponsored survey was conducted on 612 CISOs, CIOs, and other information security professionals, who were asked questions about data security and cyber risk. The survey revealed confidence in cybersecurity defenses is getting worse, with more than 67% of respondents now believing they will experience a data breach or cyberattack in 2018. Last year, 60% of respondents thought they would likely experience a data breach or cyberattack in 2017. Hackers have been responsible for a large number of data breaches over the past 12 months and the threat from malware is greater than ever, but the biggest perceived data security risk comes from within. 70% of respondents said the most probable cause of a data breach was a lack of competent in-house staff, with 64% of respondents saying a lack of in-house expertise would likely result in a data breach. Cyberattacks and malware infections are likely causes of data breaches, but the...

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1,300 Patients’ Medical Records Viewed Without Authorization by Palomar Health Nurse
Jan16

1,300 Patients’ Medical Records Viewed Without Authorization by Palomar Health Nurse

More than 1,300 patients of Palomar Medical Center Escondido are being notified that a former nurse viewed their medical records without authorization while they were receiving treatment at the hospital. The privacy violations occurred over a 15-month period between February 10, 2016 and May 7, 2017. The unauthorized access was discovered when access logs were reviewed. The audit revealed a pattern of access that was not consistent with the nurse’s work duties. The audit showed the nurse had viewed the records of patients that had been assigned to her, in addition to patients assigned to another nurse in the same unit. The incident appears to be a case of snooping, rather than data access with malicious intent. Palomar Health has uncovered no evidence to suggest any information was recorded and removed from the hospital, and no reports have been received to suggest any patient information has been misused. Following an internal investigation into the privacy violations, the nurse resigned. The information viewed was limited to names, dates of birth, genders, medical record numbers,...

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Patients in Connecticut Can Now Sue Healthcare Providers for Privacy Violations
Jan16

Patients in Connecticut Can Now Sue Healthcare Providers for Privacy Violations

There is no private cause of action in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, so patients are not permitted to sue healthcare providers for privacy violations. However, there have been rulings in several states, including New York, Missouri, and Massachusetts, allowing patients to file lawsuits against healthcare providers over unauthorized and negligent disclosures of medical records. Following a ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court last week, Connecticut residents will be permitted to file lawsuits for damages following negligent disclosures of medical records that have resulted in harm. The legal precedent was set by the Supreme Court in the case Byrne v. Avery Center for Obstetrics & Gynecology. Emily Byrne filed a lawsuit against Avery Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) after her medical records were disclosed to a man seeking custody of her child in a paternity suit. ACOG was issued with a subpoena to appear before an attorney and supply Byrne’s medical records. ACOG did not challenge the subpoena, made no attempt to limit disclosure, and...

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Clarifying the HIPAA Retention Requirements
Jan15

Clarifying the HIPAA Retention Requirements

The subtle distinction between HIPAA medical records retention and HIPAA record retention can cause confusion when discussing HIPAA retention requirements. This article aims to clarify what records need to be retained under HIPAA, and what other retention requirements Covered Entities should consider. The HIPAA retention requirements are actually quite straightforward. What can cause confusion for some Covered Entities and Business Associates is the stipulation within the Privacy Rule that appropriate administrative, technical and physical safeguards must implemented to “protect the privacy of Protected Health Information for whatever period such information is maintained”. There is No HIPAA Medical Records Retention Period The reason the Privacy Rule does not stipulate how long medical records should be retained is because there is no HIPAA medical records retention period. Each state has its own laws governing the retention of medical records, and – unlike in other areas of the Healthcare Insurance, Portability and Accountability Act – HIPAA does not pre-empt them....

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20% of RNs Had Breaches of Patient Data at Their Organization
Jan15

20% of RNs Had Breaches of Patient Data at Their Organization

A recent survey conducted by the University of Phoenix College of Health Professions indicates registered nurses (RNs) are confident in their organization’s ability to prevent data breaches. The survey was conducted on 504 full time RNs and administrative staff across the United States. Respondents had held their position for at least two years. Almost half of RNs (48%) and 57% of administrative staff said they were very confident that their organization could prevent data breaches and protect against the theft of patient data, even though 19% of administrative staff and 20% of RNs said their organization had had a data breach in the past. 21% did not know if a breach had occurred. The survey confirmed that healthcare organizations have made many changes over the years to better protect data and patient privacy, with most of the changes occurring in the past year, according to a quarter of RNs and 40% of administrative staff. Those changes have occurred across the organization. The biggest areas for change were safety, quality of care, population health, data security and the...

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Kathryn Marchesini Appointed Chief Privacy Officer at ONC
Jan12

Kathryn Marchesini Appointed Chief Privacy Officer at ONC

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has a new chief privacy officer – Kathryn Marchesini, JD. The appointment was announced this week by National Coordinator Donald Rucker, M.D. Marchesini will replace Acting Chief Privacy Officer Deven McGraw, who left the position this fall. The HITECH Act requires a Chief Privacy Officer to be appointed by the ONC. The CPO is required to advise the National Coordinator on privacy, security, and data stewardship of electronic health information and to coordinate with other federal agencies. Following the departure of McGraw, it was unclear whether the position of CPO would be filled at the ONC. The ONC has had major cuts to its budget, and in an effort to become a much leaner organization, funding for the Office of the Chief Privacy Officer was due to be withdrawn in 2018. However, the decision has been taken to appoint a successor to McGraw. There are few individuals better qualified to take on the role of CPO. Katheryn Marchesini has extensive experience in the field of data privacy and security, having spent seven...

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Data Breach Notification Bill Introduced in North Carolina
Jan12

Data Breach Notification Bill Introduced in North Carolina

A new data breach notification bill has been introduced in North Carolina in response to the rise in breaches of personal information in 2017. Last year, more than 5.3 million residents of North Carolina were impacted by data breaches. The rise in data breaches prompted state Attorney General Josh Stein and state Representative Jason Saine to introduce the Act to Strengthen Identity Theft Protections. If passed, North Carolina will have some of the toughest data breach notification laws in the United States. The Act, introduced on January 8, 2018, is intended to strengthen protections for state residents. The Act updates the definitions of personal information and security breaches, and decreases the allowable time to notify state residents of a breach of their personal information. The definition of personal information has been expanded to include insurance account numbers and medical information. It is currently unclear whether the new law will apply to organizations covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or if they will be deemed to be in...

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What is Individually Identifiable Health Information?
Jan11

What is Individually Identifiable Health Information?

What is individually identifiable health information and what must HIPAA-covered entities do to the information before it can be shared for reasons not detailed in the permitted uses and disclosures of the HIPAA Privacy Rule? What is Individually Identifiable Health Information? Before answering the question, what is individually identifiable health information, it is necessary to define health information. HIPAA defines health information as any information created or received by a HIPAA-covered entity (healthcare provider, health plan, or healthcare clearinghouse) or business associate of a HIPAA-covered entity. Health information includes past, present, and future information about mental and physical health and the condition of an individual, the provision of healthcare to an individual, and information related to payment for healthcare, again in the past, present, or future. Health information also includes demographic information about an individual. Individually identifiable health information is a subset of health information, and as the name suggests, is health information...

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HIPAA Compliance for Association Health Plans
Jan05

HIPAA Compliance for Association Health Plans

HIPAA compliance for Association Health Plans has been a topic of conversation between contributors to HIPAA Journal since the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released a proposed rule to help small businesses and self-employed workers buy less expensive health coverage. In October 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13813 – “Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition across the United States”. The Executive Order directs the Administration to facilitate the purchase of health coverage across State borders in order to promote competition in healthcare markets and limit excessive consolidation throughout the healthcare system. In order to achieve the objectives of the Executive Order, the President suggests expanding existing alternatives to the “expensive, mandate-laden Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. The existing alternatives include Association Health Plans, Short-Term Limited-Duration Insurance Plans, and Health Reimbursement Arrangements. HHS´ Proposed Rule Broadens the Criteria of ERISA The HHS´ proposed rule addresses the...

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Is Azure HIPAA Compliant?
Jan05

Is Azure HIPAA Compliant?

Is Azure HIPAA compliant? Can Microsoft’s cloud services be used by HIPAA covered entities without violating HIPAA Rules? Many healthcare organizations are considering moving some of their services to the cloud, and a large percentage already have. The cloud offers considerable benefits and can help healthcare organizations lower their IT costs, but what about HIPAA? HIPAA does not prohibit healthcare organizations from taking advantage of cloud services; however, it does place certain restrictions on the services that can be used, at least as far as protected health information is concerned. Most healthcare organizations will consider the three main providers of cloud services. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure. We have already covered AWS HIPAA compliance here, but what about Azure? Is Azure HIPAA compliant? Is Azure HIPAA Compliant? Before any cloud service can be used by healthcare organizations, they must first enter into a business associate agreement with the service provider. Under HIPAA Rules, cloud service providers are considered...

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Largest Healthcare Data Breaches of 2017
Jan04

Largest Healthcare Data Breaches of 2017

This article details the largest healthcare data breaches of 2017 and compares this year’s breach tally to the past two years, which were both record-breaking years for healthcare data breaches. 2015 was a particularly bad year for the healthcare industry, with some of the largest healthcare data breaches ever discovered. There was the massive data breach at Anthem Inc., the likes of which had never been seen before. 78.8 million healthcare records were compromised in that single cyberattack, and there were also two other healthcare data breaches involving 10 million or more records. 2015 was the worst ever year in terms of the number of healthcare records exposed or stolen. 2016 was a better year for the healthcare industry in terms of the number of healthcare records exposed in data breaches. There was no repeat of the mega data breaches of the previous year. Yet, the number of incidents increased significantly. 2016 was the worst ever year in terms of the number of breaches reported by HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates. So how have healthcare organizations...

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HHS Publishes Final Rule on Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records
Jan03

HHS Publishes Final Rule on Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records

The Department of Health and Human Services has published its final rule on the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records, altering Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) regulations. The aim of the update is to better align regulations with advances in healthcare delivery in the United States, while ensuring patient’s privacy is protected when treatment for substance abuse disorders is sought. The final rule addresses the permitted uses and disclosures of patient identifying information for healthcare operations, payment, audits and evaluations. The last substantial changes to the Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records (42 CFR part 2) regulations were in 1987. In 2016, SAMHSA submitted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register proposing updates to 42 CFR part 2. The proposed updates reflected the development of integrated health care models and the use of electronic exchange of patient information, while still ensuring patient privacy was protected to prevent improper disclosures. After considering public...

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OIG Finds Data Security Inadequacies at North Carolina State Medicaid Agency
Jan03

OIG Finds Data Security Inadequacies at North Carolina State Medicaid Agency

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) has published the findings of an audit of the North Carolina State Medicaid agency. The report shows the State agency has failed to implement sufficient controls to ensure the security of its Medicaid eligibility determination system and the security, integrity, and availability of Medicaid eligibility data. HHS oversees the administration of several federal programs, including Medicaid. Part of its oversight of the Medicaid program involves the auditing of State agencies to determine whether appropriate system security controls have been implemented and State agencies are complying with Federal requirements. The aim of the OIG audit was to determine whether adequate information system general controls had been implemented by the state of North Carolina to ensure its Medicaid eligibility determination system and data were secured. The Office of North Carolina Families Accessing Services Through Technology (NC FAST) was tasked with operating North Carolina’s Medicaid eligibility determination system. NC...

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CMS Clarifies Position on Use of Text Messages in Healthcare
Jan03

CMS Clarifies Position on Use of Text Messages in Healthcare

In November, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) explained in emails to healthcare providers that the use of text messages in healthcare is prohibited due to concerns about security and patient privacy. SMS messages are not secure. The CMS was concerned that the use of text messages in healthcare will lead to the exposure of sensitive patient data and could threaten the integrity of medical records. While this is understandable as far as SMS messages are concerned, many secure messaging applications satisfy all the requirements of HIPAA – e.g. transmission security, access and authentication controls, audit controls, and safeguards to ensure the integrity of PHI. The use of secure messaging platforms was raised with the CMS by some hospitals; however, the position of the CMS, based on the emails, appeared to be a total ban on the use of text messages in healthcare, even the use of secure messaging platforms. In the emails, the CMS said, “After meeting with vendors regarding these [secure messaging] products, it was determined they cannot always ensure the privacy...

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2017 HIPAA Enforcement Summary
Dec28

2017 HIPAA Enforcement Summary

Our 2017 HIPAA enforcement summary details the financial penalties paid by healthcare organizations to resolve HIPAA violation cases investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and state attorneys general. 2017 saw OCR continue its aggressive pursuit of financial settlements for serious violations of HIPAA Rules. There have been 9 HIPAA settlements and one civil monetary penalty in 2017. In total, OCR received $19,393,000 in financial settlements and civil monetary penalties from covered entities and business associates to resolve HIPAA violations discovered during the investigations of data breaches and complaints. Last year, there were 12 settlements reached with HIPAA-covered entities and business associates, and one civil monetary penalty issued. In 2016, OCR received $25,505,300 from covered entities to resolve HIPAA violation cases. Summary of 2017 HIPAA Enforcement by OCR Listed below are the 2017 HIPAA enforcement activities of OCR that resulted in financial penalties for HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates....

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What is Considered PHI Under HIPAA?
Dec28

What is Considered PHI Under HIPAA?

In a healthcare environment, you are likely to hear health information referred to as protected health information or PHI, but what is considered PHI under HIPAA? What is Considered PHI Under HIPAA Rules? Under HIPAA Rules, PHI is considered to be any identifiable health information that is used, maintained, stored, or transmitted by a HIPAA-covered entity – A healthcare provider, health plan or health insurer, or a healthcare clearinghouse – or a business associate of a HIPAA-covered entity, in relation to the provision of healthcare or payment for healthcare services. It is not only past and current health information that is considered PHI under HIPAA Rules, but also future information about medical conditions or physical and mental health related to the provision of care or payment for care. PHI is health information in any form, including physical records, electronic records, or spoken information. Therefore, PHI includes health records, health histories, lab test results, and medical bills. Essentially, all health information is considered PHI when it includes individual...

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Is Google Voice HIPAA Compliant?
Dec28

Is Google Voice HIPAA Compliant?

Google Voice is a popular telephony service, but is Google Voice HIPAA compliant or can it be used in a HIPAA compliant way? Is it possible for healthcare organizations – or healthcare employees – to use the service without violating HIPAA Rules? Is Google Voice HIPAA Compliant? Google Voice is a popular and convenient telephony service that includes voicemail, voicemail transcription to text, the ability to send text messages free of charge, and many other useful features. It is therefore unsurprising that many healthcare professionals would like to use the service at work, as well as for personal use. In order for a service to be used in healthcare in conjunction with any protected health information (PHI) it must be possible to use it in a HIPAA compliant way. That means the service must be covered by the conduit exemption rule – which was introduced when the HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule came into effect – or it must incorporate a range of controls and safeguards to meet the requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule. As with SMS, faxing and email, Google Voice is not...

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Scrub Nurse Fired for Photographing Employee-Patient’s Genitals
Dec28

Scrub Nurse Fired for Photographing Employee-Patient’s Genitals

A scrub nurse who took photographs of a patient’s genitals and shared the images with colleagues has been fired, while the patient, who is also an employee at the same hospital, has filed a lawsuit seeking damages for the harm caused by the incident. The employee-patient was undergoing incisional hernia surgery at Washington Hospital. She alleges in a complaint filed in Washington County Court, that while she was unconscious, a scrub nurse took photographs of her genitals on a mobile phone and shared the photographs with co-workers. Photographing patients without their consent is a violation of HIPAA Rules, and one that can attract a significant financial penalty. Last Year, New York Hospital settled a HIPAA violation case with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Rights and paid a financial penalty of $2.2 million. In that case, a television crew had been authorized to film in the hospital, but consent from the patients in the footage had not been obtained. In the Washington Hospital HIPAA breach, the patient, identified in the lawsuit only as Jane Doe, claims...

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Cybersecurity Best Practices for Travelling Healthcare Professionals
Dec27

Cybersecurity Best Practices for Travelling Healthcare Professionals

In its December cybersecurity newsletter, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) offered cybersecurity best practices for travelling healthcare professionals to help them prevent malware infections and the exposure of patients’ protected health information (PHI). Many healthcare professionals will be travelling to see their families over the holidays and will be taking work-issued devices with them on their travels, which increases the risk to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI. Using work-issued laptops, tablets, and mobile phones in the office or at home offers some protection from cyberattacks and malware infections. Using the devices to connect to the Internet at cafes, coffee shops, hotels, and other Wi-Fi access points increases the risk of a malware infection or man-in-the-middle attack. Even charging portable devices via public USB charging points at hotels and airports can see malware transferred. Not only will malware and cyberattacks potentially result in data on the device being exposed, login credentials can...

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Is Facebook Messenger HIPAA Compliant?
Dec22

Is Facebook Messenger HIPAA Compliant?

Is Facebook Messenger HIPAA compliant? Is it OK to use the messaging service to send protected health information without violating HIPAA Rules? Many doctors and nurses communicate using chat platforms, but is it acceptable to use the platforms for sending PHI? One of the most popular chat platforms is Facebook Messenger. To help clear up confusion we will assess whether Facebook Messenger is HIPAA compliant and if the platform can be used to send PHI. In order to use any service to send PHI, it must incorporate security controls to ensure information cannot be intercepted in transit. In sort, messages need to be encrypted. Many chat platforms, including Facebook Messenger, do encrypt data in transit, so this aspect of HIPAA is satisfied. However, with Facebook Messenger, encryption is optional and users have to opt in. Provided that setting has been activated, only the sender and the receiver will be able to view the messages. However, there is more to HIPAA compliance than simply encrypting data in transit. There must be access and authentication controls to ensure only...

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HIPAA Compliant Email Providers
Dec22

HIPAA Compliant Email Providers

HIPAA-covered entities must ensure protected health information (PHI) transmitted by email is secured to prevent unauthorized individuals from intercepting messages, and many choose to use HIPAA compliant email providers to ensure appropriate controls are applied to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI. There are many HIPAA compliant email providers to choose from that provide end-to-end encryption for messages. Some of the solutions require software to be hosted on your own infrastructure; others take care of everything. Changing email provider does not necessarily mean you have to change your email addresses. Many services allow you to keep your existing email addresses and send messages as you normally would from your desktop. All HIPAA compliant email providers must ensure their solution incorporates all of the safeguards required by the HIPAA Security Rule. The solutions need to have access controls 164.312(a)(1), audit controls 164.312(b), integrity controls 164.312(c)(1), authentication 164.312(d), and PHI must be secured in transit 164.312(e)(1)....

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Protenus Releases November Healthcare Data Breach Report
Dec21

Protenus Releases November Healthcare Data Breach Report

Protenus has released its November healthcare data breach report – a summary of healthcare data breaches reported by HIPAA-covered entities. The report shows there has been a month on month fall in healthcare data breaches, and a major reduction in the number of records exposed by data breaches. November saw the lowest total of the year to date for breaches with 28 incidents included in the report – four incidents fewer than February, the previous best month when 32 breaches were reported. This is the second consecutive month when reported breaches have fallen. There were 46 breaches reported in September and 37 in October. November was also the best month of the year in terms of the number of records exposed. 83,925 individuals were impacted by healthcare data breaches in November. The previous lowest total was May, when 138,957 records were exposed. November was the third consecutive month where the number of breached records fell. While the November healthcare data breach report offers some good news, the fall in breaches and breached records should be taken with a large pinch...

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1,900 MidMichigan Medical Center Patients Notified After Documents Found in the Street
Dec20

1,900 MidMichigan Medical Center Patients Notified After Documents Found in the Street

MidMichigan Medical Center (MMC) in Alpena has alerted patients to a potential breach of their health information, which may have literally fallen into the hands of individuals unauthorized to view the information. On the evening of November 18, a MMC cardiologist removed patient files from the Alpena cardiology office without authorization. The files were transported to the cardiologist’s vehicle in a storage container, but the container had not been properly secured. Close to a parking lot near 12th Avenue/Chisholm Street, the container was dropped, spilling the contents on the ground. The documents were caught by the wind and started blowing round the street. Some of the documents were picked up by members of the public, who informed the hospital that documents containing sensitive patient information was blowing around the street. The hospital contacted law enforcement to provide assistance collecting the paperwork. Dr. Richard Bates, vice president of medical affairs at MMC issued a statement saying all of the paperwork is believed to have been retrieved, so the risk to...

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