Posts Tagged encryption

Who is Protecting Your Health Care Records?

Posted by on Monday, 7 March, 2011

Patient Privacy in JeopardyHealth Care Records

How important is a patient’s privacy? If your organization is a health care facility, the instinctive answer that comes to mind is “Very important!” After all, a patient’s privacy is the basis upon which the doctor/patient relationship is based. Right?

But the real answer, when it comes to patient data, may surprise you. According to a study released by the Ponemon Institute, “patient data is being unknowingly exposed until the patients themselves detect the breach.”

The independent study, entitled “Benchmark Study on Patient Privacy and Data Securitypublished in November of 2010 examined  the privacy and data protection policies of 65 health care organizations, in accordance with the mandated Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. HITECH requires health care providers to provide stronger safeguards for patient data and to notify patients when their information has been breached.

Patient Data Protection Not a Priority?

According to the study, seventy percent of hospitals say that protecting patient data is not a top priority. Most at risk is billing information and medical records which are not being protected. More significantly, there is little or no oversight of the data itself, as patients are the first to detect breaches and end up notifying the health care facility themselves.

The study reports that most health care organizations do not have the staff or the technology to adequately protect their patients’ information. The majority (67 percent) say that they have fewer than two staff members dedicated to data protection management.

And perhaps because of this lack of resources, sixty percent of organizations in the study had more than two data breaches in the past two years, at a cost of almost $2M per organization. The estimated cost per year to our health care systems is over $6B.

This begs the question: Why?

HITECH Rules Fail to Ensure Protection

HITECH encourages health care organizations to move to Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems to help better secure patient data. And, indeed, the majority of those organizations in the studies (89 percent) said they have either fully implemented or planned soon to fully implement EHR. Yet the HITECH regulations to date do not seem to have diminished security breaches at all, and the Ponemon Institute’s study provides a sobering evaluation:

Despite the intent of these rules (HITECH), the majority (71 percent) of respondents do not believe these new federal regulations have significantly changed the management practices of patient records.

Unintentional Actions – The Primary Cause of Breaches

According to the report, the primary causes of data loss or theft were unintentional employee action (52 percent), lost or stolen computing device (41 percent) and third-party mistakes (34 percent).

Indeed, it would seem that – with the use of EHR systems – technologies should be deployed to assist in these unintentional breaches. And while 85 percent believe they do comply with the loose legal privacy requirements of HIPAA, only 10 percent are confident that they are able to protect patient information when used by outsourcers and cloud computing providers. More significantly, only 23 percent of respondents believed they were capable of curtailing physical access to data storage devices and severs.

The study lists 20 commonly used technology methodologies encouraged by HITECH and deployed by these institutions, including firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, monitoring systems, and encryption. The confidence these institutions feel in these technologies are also listed. Firewalls are the top choice for both data breach prevention and compliance with HIPAA. Also popular for accomplishing both are access governance systems and privileged user management. Respondents favor anti-virus and anti-malware for data breach prevention and for compliance with HIPAA they favor encryption for data at rest.

The Value of Encryption

The study points to the value of encryption technologies – for both compliance purposes and for the prevention of unintended disclosure – and this value is perceived as particularly high by those who participated in the study: 72 percent see it as a necessary technology for compliance, even though only 60 percent are currently deploying it for data breach prevention. These identified needs for encryption falls just behind the use of firewalls (78 percent), and the requirements of access governance (73 percent).

Encryption for data-at-rest is one of the key technologies that HITECH specifically identifies: An encrypted file can not be accidentally examined without the appropriate credentials. In addition, some encryption packages, such as Linoma’s Crypto Complete, monitor and record when and by whom data has been examined. These safeguards permit IT security to audit the use of data to ensure that – should a intrusion breach occur – the scope and seriousness of the breach can be assessed quickly and confidently.

So how important is a patient’s privacy? We believe it’s vitally important. And this report from the Ponemon Institute should make good reading to help your organization come to terms with the growing epidemic of security breaches.

Read how Bristol Hospital utilizes GoAnywhere Director to secure sensitive data.

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is one of Linoma Software's subject matter experts and a top blogger in the industry. He is Principle Analyst at IT Incendiary, with more than 20 years of experience in IT as a Systems Analyst, Engineer, and IS Director.

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Dealing with the HITECH Requirements of HIPAA

Posted by on Monday, 7 February, 2011

Last November, six hospitals and one nursing home were fined in California for data security breaches related to patient healthcare records. The total fines were $792,500 by the California Attorney General. The cause? The facilities failed to prevent unauthorized access to confidential patient medical information.

While these breaches made headline news in California, they were but the tip of the iceberg of the total healthcare record breaches in 2010. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, there were 592 reported healthcare data security breaches last year, which potentially exposed more than 11.5 million records. This was double the breaches of healthcare facilities in 2009, opening severe liabilities to the organizations that housed those patient records.

So what now? If your organization can be fined for failing to prevent unauthorized access, how can you safeguard your company’s healthcare records?

HITECH – What is it?

Subtitle D of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, extended the complete Privacy and Security Provisions of HIPAA to business associates of covered entities. This includes the extension of newly updated civil and criminal penalties to business associates.  On November 30, 2009, the regulations associated with the new enhancements to HIPAA enforcement took effect.

What’s it mean? If your company merely does business with an organization that is involved with healthcare records, HITECH says that you are liable for any security breaches on your watch that reveal patient vital healthcare information. This could include things like names, addresses, social security and Medicare/Medicaid numbers, or any info that could lead to misuse of healthcare information.

So how can your company protect itself from this liability?

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) interim Security Rule says that “a covered entity must consider implementing encryption as a method for safeguarding electronic protected health information.” The DHHS rule does permit something called “comparable methods” in lieu of encryption, but it does not specify what those methods might be.

Encryption vs. Comparable Methods: The Vague Alternatives

To determine if your company can provide security through some so-called “comparable method” it’s important to look at the types of breaches that occurred in the past. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse provides a good free search service to investigate at http://www.privacyrights.org.

By looking through the types of breaches that occurred in 2010, (stolen laptops, doctors emailing records to their home computers, lost or missing flash drives, unauthorized browsing by employees), the first question that you should be asking is “Can our organization really secure all those potential mechanisms for data theft without relying upon encryption?” It’s a difficult task, and the resources that your organization will expend (hardware solutions, policy solutions, etc.) can be significant.

Still, the monetary fines for failing to provide adequate protection are severe, and your management may decide that a thorough review of your security will be required.

By comparison, implementing encryption technology like Crypto Complete – is undoubtedly a faster and more cost-effective means. Crypto Complete encrypts sensitive data at the source using integrated key management, complete with auditing, field encryption and backup encryption, without interrupting the normal IT workflow. Data encryption permits the source of information itself to be put under a lock and key, and once encrypted, that data is protected from both unlawful use and the HITECH liability rule.

Now is the Time

Finally, consider the downside of ignoring the HITECH rules? Take a look at one attorney’s perspective “Responding to an Electronic Medical Records Security Breach: What Every Health Care Provider Needs to Knowto get a handle on the steps for determining the scope of the law. You’ll be surprised at how comprehensive the requirements have become, and why your management should be concerned.

Encrypting your data is the most recognized, safest and least expensive means of protecting your organization from liability from unauthorized access. If you’ve been to putting off addressing the potential pitfall of unauthorized access to your data, now is the time to investigate.

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is one of Linoma Software's subject matter experts and a top blogger in the industry. He is Principle Analyst at IT Incendiary, with more than 20 years of experience in IT as a Systems Analyst, Engineer, and IS Director.

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FTP “Lack of Security” Exposed

Posted by on Monday, 24 January, 2011

Apollo Project CSM Simulator Computers and ConsolesFTP was designed as an easy mechanism for exchanging files between computers at a time when networks were new and information security was an immature science. In the 1970s, if you wanted to secure a server from unwanted access, you simply locked the computer room door. User access to data was controlled by the basic User ID and password scenario. (Right is a reminder of how much technology has advanced since the 1970s. The photograph,  taken December 11, 1975, is the Apollo Project CSM Simulator Computers and Consoles. Photo Courtesy of NASA.)

The Internet did not yet exist and the personal computer revolution was still a decade away.

Today, the security of business file transfers is of paramount importance. The exchange of business records between computing systems, between enterprises, and even across international borders has become critical to the global economy.

Yet, the original native FTP facility of TCP/IP wasn’t designed for the requirements of the modern, globally connected enterprise. FTP’s basic security mechanisms – the User ID and password — have long ago been outdated by advances in network sleuthing technologies, hackers, malware, and the proliferation of millions of network-attached users.

Risks associated with using native (standard) FTP include:

  • Native FTP does not encrypt data.
  • A user’s name and password are transferred in clear text when logging on and can therefore be easily recognized.
  • The use of FTP scripts or batch files leaves User IDs and passwords in the open, where they can easily be hacked.
  • FTP alone, does not meet compliance regulations. (For example: HIPAA, SOX, State Privacy Laws, etc.)
  • When using an FTP connection, the transferred data could “stray” to a remote computer and not arrive at their intended destination leaving your data exposed for third parties or hackers to intercept.
  • Conventional FTP does not natively maintain a record of file transfers.

The first step is to examine how FTP is being used in your organization. The next step is to identify how your organization needs to manage and secure everyone’s file transfers. The final step is to evaluate what type of Managed File Transfer Product your company needs.

For more information download our White Paper – Beyond FTP: Securing and Managing File Transfers.

PCI-DSS 2.0

Posted by on Wednesday, 6 October, 2010

According to a survey of 155 Qualified Security Assessors (QSAs) conducted by the Ponemon Institute, 60 percent of retailers lack the budgets to be fully compliant with the PCI DSS standards. As an example, the annual audit cost for a major retailer can be as high as $225,000.

According to the Ponemon Institute survey, restricting access to card data on a “need-to-know basis” (PCI DSS Requirement #7) is still the most important PCI DSS requirement, but also the most difficult to achieve.

QSAs reported that the three most common business reasons for storing cardholder data are:

  • Handling charge-backs
  • Providing customer service
  • Processing recurring subscriptions

In order to service these customer’s requirements, the credit card data must still be available for the various software applications. These industry processes require merchants to implement methods of protecting cardholders from theft.

Encryption the Best Technology

QSAs find the most significant threats to cardholder data are in merchant networks and databases. They believe firewalls, encryption for data at rest, and encryption for data in motion are the top three most effective technologies for achieving compliance.

Sixty percent of QSAs believe encryption is the best means to protect card data end-to-end. Forty-one percent of QSAs say that controlling access to encryption keys is the most difficult management task their clients face.

Getting a Handle on PCI Issues

So what’s the best way to both satisfy the requirements of PCI and still make secured data transparent to applications?

The strategy QSAs recommend is to lock down the cardholder data with technologies that:

  1. Restrict the access
  2. Encrypt the data
  3. Manage and control the encryption keys

These recommendations point to a need to make encryption and encryption-key access an integral part of the overall information system.

But too many organizations use ad hoc encryption/de-encryption utilities that slow processing, and often leave de-encrypted data in the open. In addition, without any integrated encryption key management process, there is really no security at all.  Unsecured encryption keys, just like data, can be lost, stolen, and misused. Access to those keys should be managed as an integral part of the overall security of the operating system.

The point is that the QSA’s three recommendations go beyond the basic requirements of the PCI standard to actually secure the credit card data at the host – and to ensure that the data isn’t misused when the data is at rest or while being transferred.

Linoma Software’s data encryption suite Crypto Complete successfully addresses these QSA PCI requirements by providing data encryption and key management services that can be integrated seamlessly with IBM i (iSeries) applications.

Building on PCI-DSS V2

Industry security analysts will still complain that PCI-DSS needs to be a real security standard aimed at protecting card holder data, but Version 2.0 doesn’t provide that value.  Consequently, we need to analyze what the QSAs are recommending, and then build on PCI-DSS Version 2.0 to implement the best possible data security for our customers’ credit card data.

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is one of Linoma Software's subject matter experts and a top blogger in the industry. He is Principle Analyst at IT Incendiary, with more than 20 years of experience in IT as a Systems Analyst, Engineer, and IS Director.

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