Beyond HIPAA: How to Safeguard Healthcare Data in the Cloud

As we progress from securing patient information in paper filing cabinets and locked doors, healthcare is embracing modernization, leveraging technology to streamline operations and enhance efficiency.

However, as healthcare companies continue to pursue this modernized approach, new challenges arise, particularly in cybersecurity.

Breaches, misconfigurations, insider threats, third-party risks, and data loss are just a few of the new challenges we must face, and if you want to keep your practice safe, it goes beyond the requirements of HIPAA.

Ensuring the security of sensitive patient information is crucial. In this article we’ll cover real-life scenarios of potential threats, along with ways to protect healthcare data in the cloud.

The Nightmare Scenario

Picture this: a seemingly calm day at your medical practice is shattered when your phones start to ring off the hook.

Your email system has been compromised, and cyber attackers have sent phishing emails to all your patients using YOUR email account.

What’s even more concerning is that these hackers used your email to reset your password for the Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system.

As a result, they now have unrestricted entry to ALL patient files, which contain a wealth of highly sensitive information.

This nightmarish scenario not only compromises the trust of your patients but also has legal ramifications.

The HIPAA Wall of Shame

With the breach becoming known, your practice is now listed on the dreaded HIPAA Wall of Shame – a public record of healthcare organizations that have suffered data breaches affecting 500 or more individuals.

This is where the gravity of the situation hits home, as the breach becomes a glaring mark on your practice’s reputation.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) department initiates an investigation, raising the specter of potential fines and legal actions that could have far-reaching consequences for your practice.

Prevention Beyond Compliance: How to Safeguard Healthcare Data in the Cloud

The good news is that scenarios like the one described above are entirely preventable with the right cybersecurity measures in place.

Beyond adhering to HIPAA regulations, healthcare organizations must take proactive steps to enhance their cybersecurity posture in the cloud environment.

1.) Implement MFA Across All Systems

One highly effective method to enhance cloud security is by implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) across all systems and applications.

MFA enhances security by demanding users to provide various verification methods prior to accessing the system, adding an additional layer of protection.

However, it’s crucial to avoid using text messages as the secondary authentication method, as texts can be easily intercepted by clever hackers.

Instead, opt for more secure methods such as app-based authenticators or hardware tokens.

2.) Vet Your IT Partners Thoroughly

While many healthcare practices rely on external IT companies to manage their technology infrastructure, assuming that these partners inherently know how to configure and secure systems can be a costly mistake.

Prior to engaging with an IT company, it’s imperative to thoroughly vet their cybersecurity expertise.

A quick tip – ask them for a copy of their information security policy. If they’re forthcoming with it, that’s a good sign that they have their act together.

Also ask them what standards they follow for hardening cloud applications like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.

You can also engage a vCISO service to dive under the covers and confirm whether or not your IT folks are doing the right things to keep you safe.

If they don’t have a good answer, look elsewhere.

3.) Geo-Blocking and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)

Due to the worldwide scope of cyber threats, hackers can potentially launch attacks from any corner of the globe.

To counter this risk, you might want to contemplate the adoption of geo-blocking, a strategy that eliminates system access for foreign countries with a history of cybercriminal activities.

Taking this a step further, adopting a Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) approach can provide a comprehensive solution.

SASE combines network security and wide-area networking, enabling organizations to ONLY allow access to their cloud systems from company-approved computers.

4.) Education on MFA Alert Bombing

Learning from past breaches is a crucial aspect of staying ahead of cyber threats.

One notable incident involved the rideshare company Uber, where hackers leveraged a vulnerability in the organization’s MFA system.

This breach tactic, known as MFA alert bombing, involves bombarding a target with multiple MFA requests in a short period, overwhelming the victim and tricking them into clicking “Yes” on their phone to give the hackers unauthorized access.

Educating your employees about this tactic and implementing safeguards to detect and mitigate such attacks can be pivotal in maintaining cybersecurity resilience.

Conclusion

As healthcare organizations embrace cloud technology to enhance their operations and patient care, cybersecurity must evolve beyond compliance with HIPAA regulations.

The nightmare scenario of a data breach with severe consequences can be averted through a holistic approach that encompasses multi-factor authentication, thorough vetting of IT partners, geo-blocking, and education on emerging threat tactics.

By prioritizing these measures, healthcare providers can ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of patient data while maintaining their reputation and avoiding the HIPAA Wall of Shame.

In this era of digital transformation, proactive cybersecurity measures are the prescription for a healthier and more secure healthcare ecosystem.

 


Josh Ablett

Josh Ablett

Josh Ablett, CISSP, a seasoned cybersecurity expert with 14 years of experience, is dedicated to ensuring healthcare compliance and thwarting hackers. His proficiency extends across an array of cybersecurity frameworks tailored to the healthcare sector, including HIPAA, CMMC, NIST, SOC2, and state privacy laws.




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