New HIPAA guidance addresses ransomware

The U.S. Department of Human Services has released new guidance for health care companies that focuses on the growing threat of ransomware, stresses the need for better education and regular backups, and confirms that a ransomware attack against plain-text health information is, in fact, a breach that must be disclosed

The U.S. Department of Human Services has released new guidance for health care organizations that focuses on the growing threat of ransomware, stresses the need for better education and regular backups, and confirms that a ransomware attack against plain-text health information is, in fact, a breach that must be disclosed.

The guidance recommends that organizations identify the risks facing their patient information, create a plan to address those links, set up procedures to protect systems from malware, train users to spot malware, limit access to sensitive information to just the people who need it most, and have a disaster recovery plan that includes frequent data backups.

"The new guidance, to a great extent reiterates what has already been in place, but is a bit more specific," said Dana Simberkoff, Chief Compliance and Risk Officer at Jersey City, NJ-based AvePoint Inc. "The emphasis is on education, which is a good component of a good data protection program."

Ransomware typically gets onto a system through malicious email attachments or links to malicious websites, both of which can be addressed to some degree with employee education.

"The second mistake organizations make is granting too much access to people who don't need access to that information," she said. "Organizations should focus on providing the least access possible for employees to do their jobs."

Understaffed IT departments, however, often err on the side of too much access, she said.

"By giving people more access than they need, they avoid having those folks come back every time they need something," she said.

However, limiting the access rights of individual users means that if those users get effective, there's less data that the malware can get to.

The new guidance is a summary of industry best practices, which organizations should already have been doing, she said.

"The only thing that's surprising about the guidance s that it's a little bit late," she said.

In addition to providing recommendations for organizations to help them defend against ransomware, the new guidance also clarifies that a ransomware attack does, in fact, count as a breach because "unauthorized individuals have taken possession or control of the information."

"When electronic protected health information is encrypted as the result of a ransomware attack,

a breach has occurred," the HHS guidance said.

One exception, however, is if the data had already been encrypted by the organization itself, and the hackers who got access to it would not have been able to do anything with it. But it depends on the type of encryption.

For example, if a cybercriminal gets access to a laptop with full disk encryption, and the laptop is powered down, the that would be unreadable to the attacker.

That's not the case if the laptop was powered up, however, and the user was logged in.

"If the ransomware accesses the file containing the PHI, the file containing the PHI will be transparently decrypted by the full disk encryption solution and access permitted with the same access levels granted to the user," the guidance said.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about AvePointDepartment of Human ServicesInc.

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Maria Korolov

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place