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Privileged Access Management is an Indispensable Solution for HIPAA Compliance: The Top Three Reasons

What is HIPAA? 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the compliance standard that sets out rules to protect personally identifiable digital health records from cyber criminals. In order to ensure a secure healthcare IT infrastructure, HIPAA standards can be considered as a global benchmark to ensure data confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

HIPAA requires the following healthcare organizations to remain compliant in order to prevent unprecedented cyber incidents at any time and from any location. 

  • Speciality Hospitals/ Medical centers  
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Medical equipment suppliers
  • Medical service providers
  • Health insurance companies
  • Pathology laboratory chains

Some recent cyber incidents in the healthcare industry have raised fresh questions about vulnerabilities and how they are exploited. A healthcare service provider in North-West Europe exposed nearly two million patients’ data earlier this year. It caused massive repercussions as the ensuing investigation and cyber forensic studies revealed that it was the result of some suspicious activity inside the organization’s network. The significance of a secure access control mechanism came to the forefront, yet again. 

So, what are the dominant reasons behind the security vulnerabilities of the healthcare industry and how can those be addressed?

The reasons behind IT security vulnerabilities:

There are several reasons behind information security vulnerabilities in the healthcare sector. To a large extent, these vulnerabilities emanate from poor identity and access control mechanisms. Insider threats, account takeovers, credentials abuse, and unauthorized access to critical applications are some of the common examples of how poor identity access controls lead to data breaches. 

Today, many healthcare chains manage data in hosted environments: on-cloud and managed services. Digital identities are managed by a growing number of user populations, that is, internal and external. Therefore, it is extremely important to ensure databases and applications, especially privileged accounts, are protected from unauthorized access.

What does HIPAA compliance standards mandate?

HIPAA standards require the implementation of necessary data security rules. These rules must be administered by IT security officials. It is mandatory for both physical safeguards and e-PHI (Electronic Protected Health Information). The mandates demand that the entities ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all e-PHI they create, receive, maintain, or transmit.

In other words, HIPAA standards basically require organizations to formulate a centralized access control policy framework. This framework allows us to administer and control sensitive health information by authorizing and authenticating end users based on their roles and responsibilities.

Meeting all HIPAA requirements takes a combination of internal policies and processes, the right technology, and targeted external partnerships. In addition, implementing the right safeguards for the right information along with a continuous assessment of risks helps a healthcare organization become HIPAA compliant from a strategic level.

How does PAM help in compliance with HIPAA?

Below ARCON discusses three rules outlined by HIPAA to ensure compliance and maintain data integrity. We have also highlighted how does ARCON | Privileged Access Management (PAM) enables information security heads to comply with these mandates. 

Rule 1

Ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all e-PHI they create, receive, maintain or transmit.

How does ARCON | PAM help complying with the mandate? 

ARCON | PAM helps healthcare organizations stay HIPAA compliant by offering a unified governance engine to limit, monitor, and restrict access to critical information. While access to information systems is granted by rules and role-based policies, it also ensures that the data is encrypted when at rest or in transit. 

ARCON | PAM’s granular level control—time-bound and role-bound access controls help organizations to restrict unauthorized users from accessing e-PHI. The password vault of ARCON | PAM automates password management on a regular basis. The vault randomizes and generates dynamic privileged passwords at frequent intervals to prevent any unauthorized access. 

Besides, Just-in-Time privileges, privileged session monitoring, privileged session management, session logs, and reporting of privileged access provide comprehensive controls to maintain data integrity, data confidentiality, and data availability.

Rule 2

Identify and protect against reasonably anticipated threats to the security or integrity of the information.

How does ARCON | PAM help complying with the mandate? 

In the digital ecosystem, medical staff, including doctors, nurses, technicians, and lab assistants—almost everyone counts on digital records that are stored in on-prem or cloud databases and applications. Sometimes, data is processed at managed service providers’ IT infrastructure.

They access these records every day and anytime for several purposes. Among hundreds of these users, there could be some anomalous profiles or digital identities that perform certain activities that they are not supposed to do. For example, drifting away from baseline activities and trying to access applications that aren’t supposed to be accessed. 

These suspicious users could be potential threats to sensitive data. ARCON’s threat predictive tool User Behaviour Analytics (UBA), easily integrable with both PAM and EPM, helps organizations identify the suspicious behaviour profiles that are deviating from their baseline activities and flags alerts to the administrators for instant action.

 

Rule 3

Protect against reasonably anticipated, impermissible uses or disclosures.

Anticipation of potential threats is highly imperative today. A suspicious user, if performing any action that is not permissible as per the user’s role, is likely to be a potential threat. It could be highly risky for e-PHI because the information might be breached. 

For instance, if any user is showing some unusual behaviour by downloading a batch of files that he/she has never done before, it is considered malicious behaviour. Or maybe someone who is accessing any critical health application that he/she has never accessed before or is not supposed to access is also considered to have malicious intent. 

ARCON’s threat analytics tool identifies these anomalous user-profiles and notifies the IT admins promptly to prevent them from accessing any sensitive health information henceforth. These user IDs are deprovisioned or their elevated access rights are revoked.

Conclusion

It is important that every healthcare organization is compliant with the HIPAA standards. Following the comprehensive guidelines, physicians, pharmacists, pathologists, dentists, and even health insurance providers need to lay a strong foundation of HIPAA compliance by deploying a robust PAM solution and keeping evolving information security concerns at bay.

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