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The HIPAA Final Rule and Staying Compliant in the Cloud

As healthcare and patient data move to the cloud, HIPAA compliance issues follow

The HIPAA Omnibus Final Rule went into effect on March 26, 2013.  In order to stay compliant, the date for fulfilling the new rules is September 23, 2013, except for companies operating under existing “business associate agreements (BAA),” may be allowed an extension until September 23, 2014.

As healthcare and patient data move to the cloud, HIPAA compliance issues follow.  With many vendors, consultants, internal and external IT departments at work, the question of who is responsible for compliance comes up quite often.  Not all organizations are equipped or experienced to meet the HIPAA compliance rules by themselves.  Due to the nature of the data and the privacy rules of patients, it is important to secure the data correctly the first time.

HIPAA and the Cloud
Do you have to build your own cloud HIPAA compliance solutions from scratch?  The short answer is no.  There are solutions and consulting companies available to help move patient data to the cloud as well as secure it following HIPAA compliance rules and best practices.

The following checklist provides a guide to help plan for meeting the new HIPAA compliance rules.

A Cloud HIPAA Compliance Checklist

1. Ensure “Business Associates” are HIPAA compliant

-          Data Centers and cloud providers that serve the healthcare industry are in the category of “business associates.”

-          Business Associates can also be any entity that “…creates, receives, maintains, or transmits protected health information (PHI) on behalf of a covered entity.”  This means document storage companies and cloud providers now officially have to follow HIPAA rules as well.

-          Subcontractors are also considered business associates if they are creating, receiving, transmitting, or maintaining Protected Health Information (PHI) on behalf of a business associate agreement.

-          As a business associate they must meet the compliance rules for all privacy and security requirements.

What can you do?
Ensure business associates and subcontractors sign a business associate agreement and follow the HIPAA compliance rules for themselves and any of their subcontractors. A sample Business Associate Agreement is available on the website.

What happens if you are in violation?
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) investigates HIPAA violations and can charge $100 – 50,000 per violation.  That gets capped at $1.5 million for multiple violations.  The charges are harsh to help ensure that data is safe and companies are following the HIPAA rules.

2. Data Backup

- Health care providers, business associates, and subcontractors must have a backup contingency plan.

- Requirements state that it has to include a:

Backup plan for data, disaster recovery plan, and an emergency mode operations plan

- The backup vendor needs to encrypt backup images during transit to their off-site data centers so that data cannot be read without an encryption key

- The end user/partner is required to encrypt the source data to meet HIPAA compliance

What can you do?

If you handle the data backup internally, set a plan to meet HIPAA compliance and execute it.
If you have external backup solution providers, ensure they have a working plan in place.

3. Security Rules

-          Physical safeguards need to be implemented to secure the facility, like access controls for the facility

-          Develop procedures to address and respond to security breaches

-          There are an additional 18 technical security standards and 36 implementation specifications as well

What can you do?

Put a plan in place to protect data from internal and external threats as well as limiting access to only those that require it.

4. Technical Safeguards
Health care providers, business associates, and subcontractors must implement technical safeguards. While many technical safeguards are not required – they do mitigate your risk in case of a breach. In particular, encryption of sensitive data allows you to claim “safe harbor” in the case of a breach.

-  Study encryption and decryption of electronically protected health information

-  Use AES encryption for data “at rest” in the cloud

-  Use strong – and highly protected – encryption key management; this is the most sensitive and difficult piece on this list – consider to use split-key cloud encryption or homomorphic key management

-  Transmission of data must be secured: use SSL/TLS or IPSec

-  When any data is deleted in the cloud any mirrored version of the data must be deleted as well

-  Limit access to electronically protected health information

-  Audit controls and procedures that record and analyze activity in information systems which contain electronically protected health information

-  Implement technical security measures such as strong authentication and authorization, guarding against unauthorized access to electronically protected information transmitted over electronic communication networks

What can you do?

Adopt strong encryption technology and develop a plan to ensure data is transmitted, stored, and deleted securely. Develop a plan to monitor data access and control access.

5. Administrative Safeguards

For organizations to meet HIPAA compliance they must have HIPAA Administrative Safeguards in place to “prevent, detect, contain and correct security violations.”  Policies and procedures are required to deal with: risk analysis, risk management, workforce sanctions for non-compliance, and a review of records.

-  Assign a privacy officer for developing and implementing HIPAA policies and procedures

  • Ensure that business associates also have a privacy officer since they are also liable for complying with the Security Rule

-  Implement a set of privacy procedures to meet compliance for four areas:

Risk Analysis
“Conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic protected health information held by the covered entity”

Risk Management
“Implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level to comply with §164.306(a).”

Workforce Sanctions for Non-Compliance
“Apply appropriate sanctions against workforce members who fail to comply with the security policies and procedures of the covered entity.”

Review of Records
“Implement procedures to regularly review records of information system activity, such as audit logs, access reports, and security incident tracking reports.”

-  Provide ongoing administrative employee training on Protected Health Information (PHI)

-  Implement a procedure and plan for internal HIPAA compliance audits

What can you do?
Develop an internal plan to meet HIPAA compliance and have a privacy officer to implement requirements.  Ensure that policies and procedures deal with analysis of risk, management of risk, policy violations, and sanctions for staff or contractors in violation of the policy.  Develop and maintain documentation for internal policies to meet HIPAA compliance as it will help define those policies to your organization and could assist during a HIPAA audit.

The post The HIPAA Final Rule and Staying Compliant in the Cloud appeared first on Porticor Cloud Security.

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More Stories By Gilad Parann-Nissany

Gilad Parann-Nissany, Founder and CEO at Porticor is a pioneer of Cloud Computing. He has built SaaS Clouds for medium and small enterprises at SAP (CTO Small Business); contributing to several SAP products and reaching more than 8 million users. Recently he has created a consumer Cloud at - a cloud operating system that delighted hundreds of thousands of users while providing browser-based and mobile access to data, people and a variety of cloud-based applications. He is now CEO of Porticor, a leader in Virtual Privacy and Cloud Security.

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