Healthcare

5 Ways a Healthcare Product Should Protect User Data

Go through this checklist of five must-have features to make sure your healthcare product protects user data. Bonus: A HIPAA compliance cheat sheet.

September 23, 2019

Data security is still far from perfect. But in the end, it is always better to put as much effort into how you protect your information as possible. The more care you take, the lower the chance of a data breach.

If you don’t know where to start, here are the top five features a secure healthcare product must have. But don’t hurry to skip a section if you’re familiar with the features described in it: while they may be well-known or even obvious, many companies still neglect them or implement them incorrectly.

1. 360-Degree Encryption

There are two types of encryption: 

Asymmetric encryption requires more time to implement than symmetric, but it’s usually considered more secure due to the use of two different keys.

If you’re using a symmetric algorithm, go for AES. It’s so reliable even the US government had adopted it. The following AES key sizes are available: 128, 192, and 256 bits (the more the better).

If you go with an asymmetric algorithm, we recommend RSA. An RSA key is usually 1024 or 2048 bits long, and RSA is widely used to ensure secure communication via insecure networks. 

User data can be contained in emails sent by your employees and stored on their laptops, in EHR and EMR systems, on wireless medical devices, on servers, etc. All of these emails, devices, and systems should be equipped with additional encryption in order to keep the data secure.

Note: USB flash drives are not on this list. We highly recommend that you not keep user data on them. Flash drives can be encrypted, but they can also easily get lost or stolen, which may lead to a data breach and loss of reputation for your healthcare product. 

2. Multi-Factor Authentication

Even the longest and most complicated passwords can be stolen or brute-forced, leading to identity theft and data loss. Multi-factor authentication is a way to avoid these problems, as it significantly increases the level of security. It should be implemented both for users and employees.  

Here are several methods that may complement password authentication:

Since healthcare data is one of the most sensitive kinds of user data, we recommend going for a biometric method at all times. But the final choice depends on the resources you have and is up to you.

Regardless of the multi-factor authentication method you choose, don’t make MFA optional — otherwise, some accounts will be less secure than others. As for the first step of the authentication process, require users to create long and complicated passwords. Simple and short ones can minimize the benefits of MFA and result in a data breach.

3. Security Tests

These are the top four security tests you should know about:

Penetration testing is one of the most important and popular types of security testing among healthcare organizations. It consists of five steps:

  1. Identify the goal of testing (for instance, email security validation). 
  2. With the help of specialized scanning tools, identify the system’s weak spots. 
  3. Simulate various attacks and find vulnerabilities. 
  4. Define if these vulnerabilities can be used to provide hackers with access to users’ data. 
  5. Analyze the results, update your software, and run the test again to see if you’ve reached your goal.

Keep in mind: Sometimes security tests are NOT optional. 

For example, according to HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), you must conduct a risk assessment

Make sure to meet all applicable regulations and local laws regarding your healthcare product and to carry out all relevant tests. 

4. Trained Staff

Around 80% of IT professionals in the healthcare field claim that staff security awareness is one of their top concerns. Here’s what you can do to address that:

  1. Check your team’s knowledge and skills 

What does your team already know about security? Are they familiar with all kinds of attacks like phishing, baiting, email hacking, contact spamming, vishing, and pretexting? 

Social engineering is not a new thing, but it still works even with the most rational people. Its techniques rely not on intelligence but on emotions (for instance, on a desire to be helpful), and that’s why they’re so effective. 

You can check your team’s knowledge via questionnaires or interviews. These questionnaires or interviews (and the training itself) should involve the entire team: developers, testers, administrators, front desk workers, researchers, healthcare providers, etc. 

  1.  Develop a plan and start training 

After you discover what your team already knows and what knowledge they’re missing, you can create a detailed plan for security training. You may want to cover the following topics:

If you’re running a huge company, consider developing several training plans depending on the level of knowledge of employees and/or splitting each training into a few phases.

  1. Train your team regularly

Training can’t be done only once, at the very least because employees come and go. 

For new employees, there should be a separate check and training program to help them reach the level of their colleagues. Also, document your trainings — such data may be useful in developing onboarding materials for newcomers. 

New hacking methods are developed on a regular basis, and some of them should be known by your employees. To keep them informed, introduce various types of trainings: discussions, computer-based training, classroom training, and so on. 

5. Perfect Backups

Backups are a must for any product operating with sensitive data, but for the healthcare industry, it’s also crucial to restore data that was lost or damaged as quickly as possible. Perfect backups are backups that are available at short notice and allow for the quickest possible data restoration.

Check that you follow these best practices in regards to your backups:

  1. How long does it take to get to the backup?
  2. How long does it take to restore the data?
  3. Is it possible to import a complete backup and restore only a couple of files? 
  4. Is it possible to import a complete backup and restore only a couple of files on a different system? 
  5. Is it possible to restore an entire system image to a different hard drive?

Wrap-up

By doing these five things, you can save yourself from most modern attacks.

Yet to secure your product quickly and with minimal effort, you must prepare properly before you start: define your business requirements, allocate resources, ensure the quality of the features and practices you want to implement, and then check if your requirements have been met.

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