HIPAA data has some of the strictest regulations of any kind of data due to the nature of the Protected Health Information (PHI). Failure to properly protect PHI can result in customer information being taken, hefty fines, and possible shutdown for the organization depending on the severity of the breach. File transfers are a time when data can be vulnerable depending on the transfer protocol being used. So how can you ensure secure file transfer for HIPAA data?
Why is HIPAA important?
HIPAA data includes personally identifiable information that could be problematic if it falls into the wrong hands, and HIPAA was developed to protect this data. Because of the additional requirements when transferring HIPAA-protected files, it’s important that health organizations put extra effort into ensuring secure file transfer for HIPAA files.
Extra attention should be paid to HIPAA data security, and to address cybersecurity weaknesses upfront so that if there is an attempted breach, the data is protected. Ideally, any company facilitating the transfer of HIPAA data should have dedicated infrastructure to ensure the data meets strict standards to minimize the risk of a data breach, and the damage bad actors can cause if they gain access
HIPAA data security
While there’s no official HIPAA standard for data transfer, a 2013 update to HIPAA known as the Omnibus Rule was added to strengthen protections for PHI. Important data security considerations include running regular risk assessments, updating security protocols, and including a Business Associates Agreement (BAA). Both covered entities (healthcare providers, etc.) and Business Associates (Cloud service providers, etc.) are liable for breaches in HIPAA data.
This means that it’s critical for both groups to be watchful for cybersecurity weaknesses, keep security protocols up to date, and use a secure file transfer platform as an extra safeguard for secure data transfer for HIPAA data.
Cybersecurity weaknesses in HIPAA data protection
Because HIPAA data tends to refer to PHI, having robust security is essential to keep the information safe. But many healthcare providers are using substandard security or have weak security protocols that put PHI at risk.
Between January and March 2023, there have been several breaches, ranging from a few thousand patients to over a million patients having PHI leaked. A physician in Oregon was charged with EHR snooping, the ZOLL data breach affected more than a million individuals, and the Cerebral platform hack is estimated to have compromised the data of over 3.1 million users.
The cause of the breaches varies, but it highlights a contemporary trend; cyberattackers are targeting healthcare information and taking advantage of any cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Sometimes the data is held hostage through ransomware, other times it is used for various other reasons, like identity theft. Both covered entities and any business associates who are responsible for HIPAA data must notify the Secretary within 60 days of any breach affecting over 500 individuals, so it’s essential all parties have up-to-date security protocols.
Keep security protocols up to date
Risk assessments help organizations identify potential breach points and steps that can be taken to close them. One of the most common ways hackers get ahold of client data is through employee neglect or ignoring security protocols. Often this is done when employees find security protocols difficult, inconvenient, or as an obstacle to getting work done. Addressing these pain points can make overall security stronger.
When it comes to data transfer, using secure transfer protocols like SFTP can enhance cybersecurity and protect PHI. A cloud SFTP server like Couchdrop allows covered entities to transfer sensitive files with added security. This can help transfer files from proprietary or legacy systems safely to another location for further action, such as a COW to retrieve patient data.
Regularly checking employee security protocols and having them audited by a licensed third party, as well as using a more secure file transfer method like SFTP can reduce the chance of a data breach and make security steps more convenient for employees.
A secure file transfer platform is an extra safeguard for HIPAA data
One of the main vulnerabilities of HIPAA data is when the data is in transit. This is another area where
Healthcare organizations that don’t currently use modern transfer protocols can be vulnerable.
SFTP is one of the most secure ways to transfer files. With an SFTP server like Couchdrop, healthcare organizations can automate file transfers so that important transfer actions happen automatically.
Like many cloud SFTP servers, Couchdrop offers basic file actions like moving, copying, and renaming. But it also has advanced features few others have such as encrypting or decrypting PGP and multi-step file transfer workflows. For example, Couchdrop can monitor a specific folder, watch for a file that matches a particular name, move it to a new directory, and append a timestamp all in a single workflow. As a smart SFTP solution, Couchdrop can handle SFTP transfers as well as file actions to automate and simplify complex workflows.
One important aspect of HIPAA compliance is minimizing who and what has access to data. Data should be located in the United States, and if using a cloud service for file transfers, employees at the cloud service company should not be able to access those files.
Couchdrop has a dedicated infrastructure for HIPAA customers located in San Francisco, and data never leaves the United States. User data is never stored by Couchdrop either at rest or in transit; customers connect their own storage instead. There is also the option to use an RSA 2048-bit key for data encryption which meets HIPAA standards.
As a business associate with regards to HIPAA data, Couchdrop includes a BAA for all customers transferring HIPAA-protected data. For an in-depth look at HIPAA data and how it relates to Cloud Service Providers, see our white paper HIPAA Compliance for Cloud Service Providers.
Try Couchdrop’s secure file transfer for increased protection for HIPAA data
Covered entities sending HIPAA data in a manual or less secure way should look into updating cybersecurity as soon as possible. With cyberattacks increasing on healthcare companies, experts say it’s not a matter of if a company will face a cyberattack, but when. And when that happens, having up-to-date security protocols and using a HIPAA-compliant architecture for file transfers can help make sure important PHI is protected.
With a dedicated HIPAA infrastructure, no storage of data in transit or at rest, and advanced file automation tools, Couchdrop can enable safe and secure file transfer for HIPAA data. You can evaluate Couchdrop for 14 days with no obligation and no requirement to talk to sales. Try Couchdrop today and see how it can help with your HIPAA file transfers.