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How to secure healthcare data with a DLP solution

Considered highly sensitive and very valuable, protected health information (PHI) has been heavily regulated for years through specialized laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Despite this, the healthcare industry has been incurring the highest average data breach costs for twelve years in a row, reaching $10.10 million/breach in 2022, according to the Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022 released by IBM and the Ponemon Institute. This is primarily due to the more rigorous regulatory compliance requirements healthcare data is subject to, which imply higher fines for non-compliance.

5 ways DLP helps secure healthcare data

Data loss prevention (DLP) solutions, successfully used in many industries that need to protect personally identifiable information (PII), have been increasingly gaining traction as part of healthcare cybersecurity strategies for quite some time already. Designed to protect sensitive data rather than the systems where the data is stored, DLP security solutions offer flexible, customizable data security policies, templates, and workflows that allow companies to control and monitor patient data within and, most importantly, these days, outside of the work environment. Let’s take a closer look at how DLP solutions help secure healthcare data!

1. Blocking unauthorized health data transfers

Most health data is forbidden from leaving an organization’s premises without being encrypted or transmitted through secure, authorized channels. This ties into the need to limit data access to a need-to-know basis. Employees, particularly when working from home, may be tempted to use third-party unauthorized apps and services to efficiently perform their duties. They might use tools such as popular instant messaging applications, personal emails, cloud storage services, or one-time web transfer services. With the security of these services not tested by healthcare organizations’ IT departments, there is a high risk of data leaks occurring.

Using powerful contextual scanning and content inspection tools and predefined policies, DLP solutions identify health data in files and in the body of emails in real-time, before they are sent, blocking their transfer through unauthorized channels.

2. Controlling removable devices

Employees often use removable devices such as USBs or external drives to copy large files or amounts of information. Due to their size and portability, these devices can easily be lost or stolen and, in recent years, have also become popular tools for malware attacks. Their usefulness is undeniable, but how can healthcare organizations continue using them without endangering the security of health data? DLP offers an answer.

Many DLP solutions come with device control options, which means organizations using them can block or limit the use of USB and peripheral ports to authorized company-issued devices. Some DLP vendors even offer enforced encryption options that ensure that any data copied onto a USB is automatically encrypted and access to it is restricted to those with a decryption key.

3. Restricting access to data

One of the many ways health data becomes vulnerable is when it’s locally stored on employees’ hard drives. Many times files with such sensitive information are used once and forgotten or archived although they should be deleted when no longer needed. This also greatly increases the risk of losing this data in phishing cyberattacks since local files are easily accessible for malware such as trojans and ransomware.

DLP tools can scan data stored locally for healthcare information and when it is identified on unauthorized personnel’s computers, remediation actions such as deletion or encryption can be taken. In this way, the healthcare sector can reduce the digital trail of health records and ensure they are only stored where needed.

4. Monitoring and logging

DLP solutions not only help control how health data is transferred and stored but also continually monitor its movements. All attempts to violate a policy are logged. DLP monitoring and logging features allow healthcare organizations to identify weaknesses in their cybersecurity strategies, discover cybercriminal tactics, as well as identify insider threats and other security risks. As a result, they can save money through more effective IT security training for employees and more cost-effective cybersecurity strategies that address known vulnerabilities.

5. Health data protection while working remotely

Depending on the level at which they are applied, DLP security measures will work not just on-premises but also remotely, for example, on company laptops. Hitech DLP solutions, like Endpoint Protector, are implemented at the computer level, working closely within operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and macOS, and continue to guarantee data privacy and prevent data theft whether a computer is connected to a healthcare provider’s network or the internet. In this way, healthcare data protection is uninterrupted.

This is especially important now after the COVID-19 pandemic. Although regulations such as HIPAA have been relaxed to allow for remote work, which has become popular during the pandemic and seems to be here to stay in many organizations, none of their requirements have been waived. It is, therefore, essential for healthcare organizations to ensure continuous compliance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to securely protect healthcare data?
One of the most effective ways to protect healthcare data is through the use of DLP solutions. DLP tools work by focusing on the data itself rather than the storage systems. They are able to recognize sensitive information, block transfer through unauthorized channels, enforce encryption in unsafe locations, and more.
What is HIPAA?
HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It is a United States Act of Congress signed into law in 1996. It defines how personally identifiable information maintained by the healthcare and healthcare insurance industries should be protected from fraud and theft. Generally, it prohibits healthcare providers and businesses from disclosing protected information to anyone other than a patient and the patient's authorized representatives without their consent.
How frequently are data loss incidents happening in healthcare?
According to a report by Critical Insights, healthcare cybersecurity breaches hit an all-time high in 2021, affecting 45 million individuals, up from 34 million in 2020. The total number of breaches rose 2.4% from 663 in 2020 to 679 in 2021. At the same time, according to a report from IBM and the Ponemon Institute, average healthcare breach costs in 2022 reached USD 10.10 million, increasing by 41.6% since the 2020 report.

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