Benefits of VPN for HIPAA Compliance
May 22, 2018
Healthcare organizations, insurance agents, group health plans, and business associates are scrambling as they search for ways to secure their HIPAA compliance obligations. So what’s the easiest way to ensure your data is HIPAA compliant?
For many businesses, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is one of the best and easiest ways to implement network security, protect data transmission, provide encryption and meet other compliance requirements that secure electronic Protected Health Information (ePHI).
About HIPAA Compliance
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) provides data privacy and security provisions for sensitive patient, client, and employee data. The compliance regulations include limitations on uses and disclosures of personal information, safeguards against inappropriate uses and disclosures and the protection of individuals’ rights with respect to their health information. Additionally, the HIPAA Security Rule follows the NIST (National Institute of Security and Technology) standards required to protect electronic health data.
If a breach of ePHI takes place, the HIPAA Enforcement Rule imposes penalties on covered entities, meaning they could receive a penalty of up to $50,000 per violation (or per record), with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per year for the same type of violation. To remain compliant, businesses need to implement security regulations within their business to address this critical data requirement.
The Importance of Data Encryption
It’s no surprise that ePHI is a high-value target for hackers, which is why the cost of non-compliance can be financially catastrophic. Failure to comply with HIPAA regulations can result in loss of trust, substantial fines, criminal charges, and even civil action lawsuits.
The only stipulation? ePHI, both at rest or in transit, must be encrypted to NIST standards once it is outside an organization’s internal firewalled servers. When implemented, any breach of confidential patient information renders the data unreadable, indecipherable and unusable.
How Does a VPN Supplement HIPAA Compliance?
The majority of ePHI breaches result from compromised mobile devices that contain unencrypted data or the transmission of unsecured ePHI across open networks. This issue is readily resolved if organizations simply encrypt all ePHI. This ensures that all stored and transmitted data is unreadable and most importantly, unusable if it is ever intercepted.
When data is encrypted, it is translated into an unreadable format, called ciphertext, which cannot be unencrypted unless the recipient obtains the security key. This unique key is used to revert the encrypted data back into its original format. If for any reason this data is intercepted, lost, or stolen, the personal ePHI will not be exposed. This form of encryption is equally important during everyday practices of private business data.
The Virtual Private Network
To achieve secure encryption, for mobile as well as desktop devices, organizations can implement a Virtual Private Network or VPN. This software provides security for protected health information by encrypting all transmitted data over the network, both on-site and remotely.
How to Easily Secure Your HIPAA Technical Safeguards
Technical safeguards are in place so that only authorized entities can access electronic protected health data. Additionally, these policies cover integrity control, network security, and more.
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A covered entity must implement centrally-controlled unique credentials for each user and establish procedures to govern the release or disclosure of ePHI during an emergency, automatic log off, and encryption. This is especially useful to pinpoint the source or cause of any security violations.
With a VPN that offers a centralized cloud management platform, an entity can create customized user access to sensitive data. That includes cloud environments, SaaS services, sandbox and production environments, and more.
A covered entity must implement policies and procedures to ensure that ePHI is not improperly altered or destroyed. Authenticating ePHI is a mechanism used to comply with HIPAA regulations by confirming whether it has been accessed or tampered with.
VPNs use authentication to prove a user or entity is allowed access, providing an additional form of access control. Using pre-shared keys, a VPN can identify, authenticate and authorize user access.
Devices used by authorized users must have the functionality to encrypt messages when they are sent beyond an internal firewalled server, and the ability to decrypt those messages when they are received. This is necessary to protect against unauthorized public access of ePHI.
Using a VPN, data passing over any network is secured with advanced encryption. This creates a virtual tunnel so data can’t be intercepted by snoopers, hackers or third parties.
Implement hardware, software, and/or procedural mechanisms to record and examine access and other activity in information systems that contain or use ePHI. Organizations must register attempted access to ePHI and record what is done with that data once it has been accessed.
VPNs can offer network visibility by identifying risks and vulnerabilities to your systems and data. Detailed activity reports provide insight into which resources are being accessed, what applications are being used, and how much bandwidth is being consumed.
Data Protection for Healthcare Organizations in 2018
Data security has grown into a significant problem for all organizations as the proliferation of electronic health data grows. Today, organizations must meet HIPAA compliance regulations in order to protect ePHI. Similarly, adhering to HIPAA regulations compliments the European Union-based GDPR compliance regulations going into effect May 25, 2018. Together, these data protection strategies should ensure the security of ePHI, the controls for data transmission and device security, and give organizations greater visibility and control of sensitive data.
Future changes to HIPAA regulations were hinted at by HHS’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) director Roger Severino in March 2018. These include restitution payments to individuals whose PHI had been disclosed in a breach, removal of the requirement to store forms acknowledging receipt of Privacy Notices, and clarification of what are considered “good faith” disclosures when a patient is incapacitated.
Achieve HIPAA Compliance with Secure Solutions
Tasked with choosing the best way to store, access and back up electronic protected health information, many healthcare technology companies and providers are looking at cloud computing. Cloud-based VPN technology is a great choice in comparison to traditional hardware-based solutions, as it offers scalability, affordability and increased compatibility with cloud storage environments. But remember, the cloud-based security service you choose must be SOC 2 and ISO 27001-compliant and have signed multiple HIPAA BAAs. With these checks in place, a VPN can offer a highly effective solution for any organizations’ HIPAA compliance needs.
About the author:
Shelby Taylor is the Inbound Marketing Specialist at Perimeter 81. Perimeter 81 is a leading cloud VPN provider, dedicated to transforming secure network access for the modern and distributed workforce. Unlike traditional VPN technology, Perimeter 81’s highly scalable, cost-effective and easy-to-use cloud VPN service gives companies of all industries and sizes the power to be confidently cloud-based and completely mobile. Fully SOC 2 and ISO 27001-compliant, Perimeter 81 offers organizations HIPAA security that works.