2014 News Stories

This page contains news stories from 2014

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Security Alert for Windows Systems - Don’t be the next Sony!

On December 19 2014, the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) issued Alert (TA14-353A) on Targeted Destructive Malware, about what can be done to help prevent an attack such as the recent attack on Sony.  Healthcare institutions would be well advised to review the bulletin and implement measures accordingly.  Make sure your technical security folks know about this!  The Alert is available at:  https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/alerts/TA14-353A  

NIST Announces Draft Rev’s to Small Business Security Guide

On December 16, 2014, the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced the draft of Revision 1 of NIST IR 7621, Small Business Information Security: The Fundamentals.  The draft can be found on the NIST CSRC Draft publications page at:  http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsDrafts.html#ir7621r1   

NIST, as a partner with the Small Business Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an information security awareness outreach to the small business community, developed this NISTIR as a reference guideline, intended to present the fundamentals of a small business information security program in non-technical language. Comments will be accepted through February 9, 2015. If you have any comments on the draft, please send comments or questions to: smallbizsecurity@nist.gov.

$150K Settlement for Unpatched and Unsupported Software

On December 8, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights announced that Anchorage Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS) has agreed to settle potential HIPAA violations by paying $150,000 and adopting a two-year corrective action plan, following investigation of a breach that revealed ACMHS had not implemented good security processes, had not regularly updated their IT resources with available patches, and were running outdated, unsupported software.  

The bulletin and settlement agreement are available at:  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/acmhs/index.html

NIST Draft SP 800-171 Provides Excellent Summary of Security

On November 20, 2015, the National Institute of Standards and Technology released the first public draft of SP 800-171, Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Information Systems and Organizations, which provides an excellent summary of security actions to take to protect information systems, and provides a great checklist of security considerations.

To view the full announcement and link to this draft document, please visit the CSRC Drafts page at: http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsDrafts.html#800-171

If you would like to submit comments on the draft, the deadline to submit comments is January 16, 2015, and Email your comments to: sec-cert@nist.gov

HHS Announces Guidance on HIPAA in Emergency Situations

On November 10, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published new guidance on HIPAA Privacy Rule protections in emergency situations, such as an Ebola outbreak, to ensure that HIPAA-regulated entities are aware of the ways in which patient information may be shared under the HIPAA Privacy Rule in an emergency situation, and to serve as a reminder that the protections of the Privacy Rule are not set aside during an emergency.  The HIPAA Privacy Rule protects the privacy of patients' health information but also ensures that appropriate uses and disclosures of the information still may be made to treat a patient, to protect the nation's public health, and for other critical purposes.

OCR's bulletin on HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations may be found at:  http://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/special/emergency/hipaa-privacy-emergency-situations.pdf

Additional guidance on HIPAA in Emergency Situations: Preparedness, Planning, and Response can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/special/emergency/index.html

HHS OIG 2015 Work Plan Includes HIPAA Security Enforcement

The 2015 Work Plan of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been announced and includes items pertaining to HIPAA Security, including analyzing the IT security of community health centers funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, and reviewing controls over networked medical devices at hospitals.  The HHS OIG Work Plan for Fiscal Year 2015 is available at:  http://oig.hhs.gov/reports-and-publications/archives/workplan/2015/FY15-Work-Plan.pdf  

SANS-Norse Report: Healthcare Info Compromises Epidemic

A 2014 report developed by SANS and Norse indicates widespread compromises of healthcare information in the US, affecting all kinds of healthcare organizations, and all kinds of devices from firewalls and radiology imaging systems to Web cameras and mail servers.  "A significant number of compromises were due to very basic issues such as not changing default credentials on firewalls.”  The report is available at:  http://www.norse-corp.com/HealthcareReport2014.html  (requires registration)  

Serious Security Flaw Affects Unix-based Systems - Urgent! 

On September 25, 2014, several announcements were made concerning a recently discovered serious security flaw in all Unix-based system implementations, known as the Bash/Shellshock Vulnerability.

US-CERT is aware of a Bash vulnerability affecting Unix-based operating systems such as Linux and Mac OS X. Exploitation of this vulnerability may allow a remote attacker to execute arbitrary code on an affected system.  The notification is available at:  https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/current-activity/2014/09/24/Bourne-Again-Shell-Bash-Remote-Code-Execution-Vulnerability  

HHS OCR Issues Guidance on HIPAA and Same-Sex Marriage

On September 17, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance in response to the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, specifying that spouses include both same-sex and opposite-sex individuals who are legally married, whether or not they live or receive services in a jurisdiction that recognizes their marriage.  

The guidance clarifies that same-sex spouses are have the same HIPAA rights as other family members, no matter where services are provided.  See:  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/special/samesexmarriage/index.html  

FBI Warns Healthcare is Now a Major Target of Hackers

On August 20, 2014, Reuters reported that the FBI has issued an alert through their Liaison Alert System specifically detailing a significant threat to healthcare information security posed by hackers.  The FBI provides details about the threat, including information about how technical personnel can spot evidence of malicious activity related to the threat.  The Reuters article is available at  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/20/us-cybersecurity-healthcare-fbi-idUSKBN0GK24U20140820  and the FBI warning is available here on this site.

Mass. AG Settles Breach Suit with RI Hospital for $150,000

On July 23, 2014, the Massachusetts Attorney General announced they had reached a $150,000 settlement with Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island to resolve issues concerning a breach in the Summer of 2011 of 12,000 Massachusetts patients’ names and health information that was not discovered until the Spring of 2012, and not reported until November of 2012.  The breach occurred when unencrypted backup tapes went missing.  Lessons here: #1: Encrypt your backup tapes.  #2: Have a good system for managing your backup tape inventory.  #3: Recognize that you may have issues with other states when you have a breach and your patients are residents of other states.  #4: Don’t delay reporting your breaches properly — have a solid process!  The settlement announcement is available at:  http://www.mass.gov/ago/news-and-updates/press-releases/2014/2014-07-23-women-infants-hospital.html  

7th Annual NIST/OCR HIPAA Security Conference Announced

On July 15, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced the 7th annual NIST/OCR Safeguarding Health Information: Building Assurance through HIPAA Security conference, to be held September 23-24, 2014 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, 1000 H Street NW, Washington, DC.  If you are a HIPAA Security Officer, this is THE event to attend this year.  Onsite attendance costs $345, and $200 for the webcast.  For more information and registration, please see  http://www.nist.gov/itl/csd/safeguarding-health-information-building-assurance-through-hipaa-security-2014.cfm  

Settlements Continue: $800K for Poorly Handled Records

On June 24, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights announced that Parkview Health System, Inc. (Parkview) has agreed to settle potential HIPAA violations by paying $800,000 and adopting a corrective action plan.  Parkview employees had left 71 boxes of medical records in an open and accessible area, completely unsecured.  

The press release and settlement agreement are available on the HHS Web site at:  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/parkview.html  and HHS provides FAQ on the proper disposal of protected health information at:  http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/faq/disposal-of-protected-health-information  

HHS Releases New Reports on Breaches and HIPAA Compliance

On June 11, 2014, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights, has issued two Reports to Congress called for by the HITECH Act: one on Breaches of Unsecured Protected Health Information, and the other on HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rule Compliance.  The reports cover relevant activities in calendar years 2011 and 2012.  

The breach notification report provides an overview of the breach notification requirements and discusses the reports received as a result.  The report on compliance with the HIPAA Rules summarizes complaints received of alleged violations of the HITECH Act and the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules.  These are the second reports on these topics in response to the HITECH Act requirement.  See:  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hitechrepts.html  

Exposed PHI Costs Columbia/Presbyterian Record $4.8 million

On May 7, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights announced that New York and Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) and Columbia University (CU), operating jointly as New York Presbyterian Hospital / Columbia University Medical Center, had settled a complaint for a total of $4.8 million, following the unintentional exposure of the PHI of 6,800 individuals through insecure management of server deployments.  The settlement includes an extensive (and expensive) corrective action plan.  

The message here is to be sure you use good, professional practices in the development and implementation of all systems handling PHI. The press release is at:  http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2014pres/05/20140507b.html  and the Resolution Agreements are available at:  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/ny-and-presbyterian-hospital-settlement-agreement.pdf  and  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/columbia-university-resolution-agreement.pdf  

Stolen Laptops Lead To $2 million in Settlements for Entities

On April 22, 2014, it was announced that two entities have paid nearly $2 million total to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights to resolve HIPAA issues around laptops that were stolen, that had PHI on them, and that were not encrypted, a scenario that is reported daily in the Health Information Technology press.  In both cases, Concentra Health Services and QCA Health Plan, Inc. of Arkansas had not done the required complete and thorough risk analysis and implementation of a risk management plan.  Both have corrective action plans that must be implemented, in addition to the monetary settlement.  The press release is at:  http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2014pres/04/20140422b.html  and the Resolution Agreements are available at:  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/stolenlaptops-agreements.html  

The message here is clear: 1) Do a solid Risk Analysis, and 2) Encrypt your portable devices and provide training on their secure use, or you risk big fines and corrective action plans.

FBI Issues Alert to Healthcare Entities About Cyber Security

On April 8, 2014, the FBI Cyber Division issued a Private Industry Notification, Health Care Systems and Medical Devices at Risk for Increased Cyber Intrusions for Financial Gain, a two-page overview of the state of information security in healthcare.  The Notification references other research and reports to conclude that PHI is valuable ($50 per record, vs. $1 per record for financial information), security is insufficiently implemented, and breaches are widespread. This, combined with the rapid increase in the number of EHR implementations, leaves the healthcare industry vulnerable.  The Notification is available at:  http://www.illuminweb.com/wp-content/uploads/ill-mo-uploads/103/2418/health-systems-cyber-intrusions.pdf  

The FBI encourages entities to report any suspicious or criminal activity to the local FBI field office; FBI regional phone numbers can be found online at  http://www.fbi.gov/contact/fo/fo.htm  

ONC & OCR Release Risk Assessment Tool for iPad & Windows

On March 28, 2014, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, in collaboration with the HHS Office for Civil Rights and HHS Office of the General Counsel, released a new Risk Assessment tool for small and medium sized organizations that assists in the collection and analysis of data, and comes in iPad and Windows 7 versions.  

In many ways, the tool is an evolution of the NIST HIPAA Security Rule Toolkit released in 2011.  It doesn’t make the work any easier, but it makes organizing the information and producing reports a little easier if you’re new to Risk Analysis.  Used well, it could help; used poorly, it could provide a false sense of security.   The Tool, the user guide, and related videos are all available at:  http://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/security-risk-assessment    

WA County Gov’t Settles HIPAA Security Issues for $215K

On March 7, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced that Skagit County, Washington, has agreed to settle potential violations of the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules for a $215,000 settlement and agreement to work closely with HHS to correct deficiencies in its HIPAA compliance program.  The issues concern the deployment of PHI on insecure servers, exposing the information of 1581 individuals, and the lack of HIPAA-related policies, procedures, documentation, and training.  The HHS press release is at:  http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2014pres/03/20140307a.html  

The Resolution Agreement can be found on the OCR website at:  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/enforcement/examples/skagit-agreement.html  

HHS Requests Comments on Plan to Send Audit Readiness Information Requests to 1200 HIPAA CEs and BAs

On February 24, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued a request for comment on the proposed collection of information to determine the suitability of 1200 HIPAA Covered Entities and Business Associates for being audited under the requirements of the HITECH Act.

The survey will gather information about respondents to enable OCR to assess the size, complexity, and fitness of a respondent for an audit. Information collected includes, among other things, recent data about the number of patient visits or insured lives, use of electronic information, revenue, and business locations.  See:  https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/02/24/2014-03830/agency-information-collection-activities-proposed-collection-public-comment-request  

This means that the 2014 HIPAA random audit program is now ramping up, with the first wave of contacts going out once the comment period is over.  The time to get ready is NOW.

UPDATE: Beginning in late March, 2014, HHS OCR began presenting its plan for resumption of the HIPAA Audit Program, Phase 2 of which will be getting under way in 2014 and expanding to include Business Associates in 2015.  A PDF of a PowerPoint presentation by HHS OCR Senior Adviser Linda Sanches at the HCCA Compliance Institute March 31, 2014 is available at:  http://www.hcca-info.org/Portals/0/PDFs/Resources/Conference_Handouts/Compliance_Institute/2014/tue/710print2.pdf  

UPDATE #2: On May 12, 2014 HHS reissued its request for comment on its plan to survey 1200 entities for their suitability, gathering additional information until June 11, 2014.  The reissued request for comment is available at:  https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/05/12/2014-10829/agency-information-collection-activities-submission-to-omb-for-review-and-approval-public-comment  

HHS Issues HIPAA Guidance on Sharing Mental Health Info

On February 20, 2014, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidance explaining how the HIPAA Privacy Rule operates to protect individuals' privacy rights with respect to their mental health information and in what circumstances the Privacy Rule permits health care providers to communicate with patients' family members and others to enhance treatment and assure safety.  This important guidance is available at:  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/special/mhguidance.html  

HHS Publishes Model Notice of Privacy Practices in Spanish

On February 19, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced it has created Spanish language versions of their new model HIPAA Notices of Privacy Practices.  The model notices, in English and Spanish, are available at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/modelnotices.html

HHS Launches Competition for Best Online Privacy Notice

In the hopes of finding a better model, on February 10, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced a call for designers, developers, and patient privacy experts to create an online model notice of privacy practices that is compelling, readable, and understandable by patients and is easily integrated into existing entity Web sites.  Public voting on the the contestants will determine the winner, with a $15,000 prize for first place.  See:  http://oncchallenges.ideascale.com  and  http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-02-10/html/2014-02785.htm  

HHS Releases CLIA & HIPAA Rules Allowing Lab Info Access

The US Department of Health and Human Services is releasing a new final rule concerning the access of laboratory information by individuals, to be officially published February 6, 2014.  The new rule amends CLIA to allow access of authenticated information by authenticated individuals or their authorized representatives under HIPAA, and amends HIPAA to remove laboratory information from the list of information to which individuals may be denied access.

As usual, the Preamble is well worth reading.  Individuals may still access results via their physician, and results may still be accessed for the usual treatment purposes; the new rules simply add new access rights, but create a whole new world for labs and patient communications.  See:  https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/02/06/2014-02280/patients-access-to-test-reports-clia-program-and-hipaa-privacy-rule  

FTC Gets Into Healthcare Privacy & Security Enforcement

On January 16, 2014, the US Federal Trade Commission unanimously asserted that it has authority to enforce consumer protection laws concerning the privacy and security of healthcare information, even when the concerned business is also covered under the HIPAA regulations.  FTC sees no conflict with HHS activity and finds no problems with enforcing the rules alongside HHS.

This means that, whether or not a privacy or security problem is noted by HHS, the FTC could become involved involved if they feel there have been deceptive trade practices, e.g, promising security and then not providing it.

The FTC order is at  http://op.bna.com/hl.nsf/id/psts-9fmms7/$File/lab.pdf .  An accompanying story in Bloomberg BNA is available at:  http://www.bna.com/ftc-affirms-data-n17179881620/  

HHS Proposes HIPAA Changes to Allow NICS Communication

On January 3, 2014, the US Department of Health and Human Services issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) intended to make it easier to report information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  The NPRM would modify the HIPAA Privacy Rule to permit certain HIPAA-covered entities to disclose to the NICS the identities of persons prohibited by federal law from possessing or receiving a firearm for reasons related to mental health.

The information is reported to the NICS would not include clinical, diagnostic, or other mental health information.  Instead, certain covered entities would be permitted to disclose the minimum necessary identifying information about individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or otherwise have been determined by a lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others or to lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs.

The NPRM and additional information are available at:  http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy/hipaa/understanding/special/NICS/index.html  

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