Editor’s Note: The following guest post comes from Stephen Hoops. Stephen is going to share with us his perspectives on how to prevent data security breaches in the healthcare industry.
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The healthcare industry will continue to grow as it has for the past few decades. Because of this continued growth, healthcare organizations have certain obligations it must adhere to for a variety of parties. Besides giving the best care to their patients, the healthcare industry as a whole must accentuate the importance of securing their sensitive information and expel any weaknesses that leave them blind to malicious data breaches.
No matter how you look at it, data breaches can be harmful to virtually any organization and in any industry. Healthcare organizations, in particular, have to contend with compliance standards that otherwise can result in heavy fines or penalties. Not to mention the undesirable attention from compliance auditors and the potential harm that may be inflicted on their reputation should one of these organizations fall victim to a breach.
Every organization has certain considerations when trying to protect themselves from a data breach. But in order to truly prepare against these attacks, it’s important to understand a few ways in which healthcare organizations are left blind and powerless to data breaches and other security threats.
Gaps in Encryption Between Decades of Data Collection
As new technology is implemented across the organization over several years or decades, the environment can become overly complex and older records may not be as secure or well-integrated into the current systems. Healthcare organizations must manage databases that are rife with extremely sensitive information; from Social Security numbers to HIPAA specific medical record data, this is the kind of data cyber thieves salivate over.
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Without having the systems and processes in place to identify and find their sensitive data, healthcare organizations are ill equipped to quickly locate old, outdated patient records which fail to meet compliance regulation standards since they were retained at a time before these regulations were implemented.
Provided that processes for data classification and identification have been put into practice, healthcare organizations should be able to decide how to handle their sensitive data and figure how to keep that data far from the reaches of cyber criminals.
Attempting to Manage Data They Don’t Know About
One of the most detrimental things a healthcare organization can do is fail to understand their data. Without knowing about the types of data housed in their databases, these organizations are essentially blind to the types of attacks cyber criminals are eager to employ.
In one healthcare organization, there might be multiple departments and employees with varying levels of access, thus resulting in disorganized, missing, or badly secured patient data. Because of this, there might be a mountain of data the organization isn’t even aware exists.
So how does one protect something they don’t even know about?
Again, this is another prime example of why examining all data, prioritizing relative security risk, and thus classifying this data, any healthcare organization can shed light on these unknown threats. Not to mention compliance agencies will be kept at bay if they know that the organization is taking steps to protect all of their sensitive data and reducing their exposure to risk.
Prioritizing Risk & Management of Different Data Types
If there is one truth facing all healthcare institutions it’s that all the data they collect from patients is not created equal and therefore must be addressed accordingly. Not only that, but the amount of sensitive data retained can be overwhelming considering its abundance.
As healthcare businesses must contend with revolving door of new and returning patients, not taking the time to prioritize the different types of sensitive data is only asking for trouble. Part of this task should consider the level of risk each sensitive data type poses if a data breach were to happen. Putting a plan in place to protect sensitive data means coming to grips with the consequences should data become compromised.
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For example, protecting health insurance billing information is critical for many reasons, but perhaps personal health records or any personally identifiable information, like social security numbers should be the have the highest priority with a vigorous compliance and security safeguards in place.
Identifying, classifying and prioritizing the security required to protect this data may seem like a gargantuan task; perhaps even feel daunting. The reality is that malicious parties out there have their own reasons for committing data breaches against entities and organizations of every size. For legal, financial and moral reasons, every healthcare organization must realize the risk they are exposing themselves to if they fail to address their sensitive data.