Data Breach, HIPAA / HITECH Enforcement, News Events

An Employee Mistake Leads to a HIPAA Data Breach

Just last month, a Pennsylvania-based hospital suffered a breach of patient data caused by unauthorized access and transmission of PHI by an employee. The 551-bed Penn State Milton S. Hershey hospital discovered through an internal investigation that a lab technician accessed and transmitted protected health data outside of the hospital’s secure network. The key in this breach was that the employee was authorized to work with PHI but in this case did not access and transmit the PHI securely. He used his own USB device and sent patient data through his own personal email address to two physicians.

The important thing to note in this situation is what your organization can do to avoid a situation like this: train your workforce. Not only is workforce training required by HIPAA, it is a prudent means of improving efficiency and confidence in your workforce. Many organizations believe that their biggest threat lies outside their walls. While it is a smart business decision to implement security controls to prevent intrusions from external threats, your organization should also prioritize properly training your workforce. Below is a list of the most investigated issues as noted in the OCR Enforcement highlights.

 

From OCR Enforcement highlights:

From the compliance date to the present, the compliance issues investigated most are, compiled cumulatively, in order of frequency:

  1. Impermissible uses and disclosures of protected health information;
  2. Lack of safeguards of protected health information;
  3. Lack of patient access to their protected health information;
  4. Uses or disclosures of more than the minimum necessary protected health information; and
  5. Lack of administrative safeguards of electronic protected health information.

Security Rule Enforcement Results as of the Date of This Summary

With regard to the subset of complaints specifically pertaining to the Security Rule, since the OCR began reporting its Security Rule enforcement results in October 2009, HHS has received approximately 880 complaints alleging a violation of the Security Rule. During this period, HHS closed 644 complaints after investigation and appropriate corrective action. As of May 31, 2014, OCR had 301 open complaints and compliance reviews.

 

Penn Breach Table

Here is the direct link to the Breaches Affecting 500 or More Individuals: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/administrative/breachnotificationrule/breachtool.html

Data Breach, Education, HIPAA / HITECH Enforcement, Tip of the Week, Trends & Technology

Part Three of the Practical Security Series: Solution

Solutions

SOLUTIONS

Solutions for cyber security

Note: Number nine pertains to Mobile Device protection, and a strong password is the best tip. For more information http://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/cybersecurity

  1. Use Strong Passwords and Change Them Regularly – Visit Microsoft Safety and Security Center to see if your password is strong enough: https://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/password-checker.aspx
  2. Install and Maintain Anti-Virus Software
  3. Use a Firewall
  4. Control Access to Protected Health Information
  5. Control Physical Access
  6. Limit Network Access
  7. Plan for the Unexpected
  8. Maintain Good Computer Habits
  9. Protect Mobile Devices
  10. Establish a Security Culture

Protect Mobile Devices

Mobile devices—laptop computers, handhelds, smart phones, and portable storage media— have opened a world of opportunities to un-tether EHRs from the desktop. But these opportunities also present threats to information security and privacy. Some of these threats overlap those of the desktop world, but others are unique to mobile devices.

  • Because of their mobility, these devices are easy to lose and vulnerable to theft.
  • Mobile devices are more likely than stationary ones to be exposed to electro-magnetic interference (EMI), especially from other medical devices, such as MRI machines. This interference can corrupt the information stored on a mobile device.
  • Because mobile devices may be used in places where the device can be seen by others, extra care must be taken by the user to prevent unauthorized viewing of the PHI displayed on a laptop or handheld device.
  • Not all mobile devices are equipped with strong authentication and access controls. Extra steps may be necessary to secure mobile devices from unauthorized use. Laptops should have password protection that conforms to that described in Practice 1 . Many handheld devices can be configured with password protection and this should be enabled when available. Additional steps must be taken to protect PHI on the handheld, including extra precaution over the physical control of the device, if password protection is not provided.
  • Laptop computers and handheld devices are often used to transmit and receive data wirelessly. These wireless communications must be protected from intrusion (Practice 6 describes wireless network protection). PHI transmitted unencrypted across public networks (e.g. the Internet, public Wi-Fi services) can be done where the patient requests it and has been informed of the potential risks. Generally, however, PHI should not be transmitted without encryption across these public networks.

Transporting data with mobile devices is inherently risky. There must be an overriding justification for this practice that rises above mere convenience. If healthcare data is stored on the mobile device, ensure that encryption is installed and enabled. The newest iPhone models have achieved FIPS 140-2 certification for their encryption modules. Mobile devices that cannot support encryption should not be used. This includes the inexpensive memory sticks or thumb drives that are widely available and often given away by vendors. Encrypted versions of these devices are readily obtainable at a modest cost—much less than the cost of mitigating a data breach. Remember to encrypt the removable media like the microSD card in your phone.

If it is absolutely necessary to take a laptop out of a secure area when the laptop contains patient data, the laptop’s hard drive should be encrypted. Encryption for laptops has become so affordable, and so easy to install and manage, it is hard to envision a reason that all laptops are not encrypted today. To leave a laptop unencrypted is to invite unnecessary risk to your organization and to ignore the benefits such as safe harbor from federal and state data breach laws.

Policies specifying the circumstances under which devices may be removed from the facility are very important and all due care must be taken in developing and enforcing these. The primary goal is to protect the patient’s information, so considerations of convenience or custom (e.g. working from home) must be considered in that light.

But I need to work at home today…

In today’s increasingly mobile world, it is certainly tempting to use mobile technology to break away from the office and perform work from the comfort of home, a travel hub, or a coffee shop. Those who have responsibility for protecting patient data must recognize that this responsibility does not end at the office door. Good security practices must always be followed.

Sponsored by: RISC Managementwww.RISCsecurity.com

Contact us today for all your compliance needs: Sales@RISCsecurity.com

References

About.com. (2014). What makes a smartphone smart? Retrieved from http://cellphones.about.com/od/smartphonebasics/a/what_is_smart.htm

Bloomberg Business Week. (2013). How Samsung became the world’s no. 1 smartphone maker. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-03-28/how-samsung-became-the-worlds-no-dot-1-smartphone-maker

HealthIT.gov.(2014). CyberSecurity: 10 Best practices for the small health care environment. Retrieved from http://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/cybersecurity

Hill, M. (2010). 5 Terrifying ways your own gadgets can be used to spy on you. Retrieved from http://www.cracked.com/article_18532_5-terrifying-ways-your-own-gadgets-can-be-used-to-spy-you.html

Home Box Office, Inc. (2014). The Wire. Retrieved from http://www.hbo.com/the-wire#/

Microsoft. (2014). Safety and security center: Create strong passwords. Retrieved from https://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/password-checker.aspx

Tech Media Network. (2014). Top Ten Reviews: 2014 Best smartphone reviews and comparisons. Retrieved from http://cell-phones.toptenreviews.com/smartphones/

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2014). Health Information Privacy: Guidance materials for consumers. Retrieved from http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/consumers/index.html

U.S. Department of Justice. (2013). Privacy and civil liberties: Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. Retrieved from https://it.ojp.gov/default.aspx?area=privacy&page=1285