HIPAA Compliance Software & Security Testing

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HIPAA Security Validation and Penetration Testing

HIPAA requires any business that keeps patient information to properly secure this data when it is stored and when it is transferred. These businesses are called covered entities. It is the responsibility of each covered entity to put safeguards in place to protect this information, and that all begins with HIPAA compliant software

Implementing this software isn’t necessarily easy, but choosing the right HIPAA auditing company is one of the most important business decisions you’ll ever make. HIPAA auditors may levy significant fines, and the clients whose information was compromised may decide that it’s no longer worth it doing business with you. It’s vital to work with a software developer that can perform thorough HIPAA compliance audits to keep your data confidential.

Confusion could arise when the term HIPAA audit is used. Here are the two ways to interpret it: 
  • A private company uses HIPAA compliance software to test the security of a covered entity’s website, applications, and software.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) requests proof that a covered entity follows HIPAA standards.

In this article, we will refer to #1 as HIPAA compliance audits, while we will call #2 OCR HIPAA audits. 

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Installing and Following Protocols

HIPAA auditing software is constantly evolving. Therefore, validation of security installation isn’t enough to confirm HIPAA compliance; it only shows that the HIPAA compliant web hosting and software can be compliant itself. However, it is not showing that it is being used in a compliant way. As such, it is a requirement that software compliance goes along with utilization compliance. 

Software testing and penetration testing (pentests) tools are only part of the puzzle. However, they remain incredibly important as they help ensure that the software, the hosting, and infrastructure are kept at a standard that meets or exceeds the requirements within the industry. 

The HIPAA OCR organization itself does not officially recognize software testing tools — there’s no such thing as HIPAA certification or being HIPAA certified. Although not recognized officially, auditing software and pentest software are still a good step to show that your organization took reasonable measures to follow HIPAA audit trail requirements. You want to follow best practices to verify security and infrastructure were locked down with a minimal access guarantee. Utilizing these tools is very important from a compliance perspective, and compliance doesn’t stop there. It is a continual requirement that will ultimately involve both the infrastructure and hosting alongside the internal resources and training covered with the team.

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Preventing HIPAA Security Breaches

HIPAA Software Tools and Testing 

HIPAA auditing software tools access the site and attempt to access portals, applications, mobile apps, and hardware. If the site is responsive and isn’t blocking older and less secure technologies, that could come up during an official OCR HIPAA audit. 

Typically, HIPAA compliance audits look to see if the information is being sent using SSL and if the application itself is securely performing its work. Depending on the tool used, the software can record and go through sessions to validate that a sample user transfers their information securely while interacting with the application. Simulations are run to see what the user is doing and validate it with these auditing tools. 

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Continued Monitoring and Maintenance

HIPAA compliant auditing tools are usually set up to run daily or weekly to constantly validate the site’s security. There are continual requirements for updating the underlying software, hardware, and resources. The automated auditing report may show that the website isn’t following HIPAA audit trail requirements if these are not updated. Let’s look at some of the most common ways that HIPAA compliant websites are maintained. 

Updating Website Security 

Much like the average computer user needs to update their anti-virus software, the team protecting a HIPAA website must update software that protects against the newest forms of hacking. Staying of top of these updates is an imperative part of website security. 

Monitoring Other Breaches 

If one secure site is breached, many other sites likely have the same vulnerability. Anyone in web security should stay abreast of security news so that they are aware of the latest attacks that could also affect the sites they monitor. 

Protect Against Brute Force Attacks 

Brute force attacks are performed by malicious code that attacks login portals. These bots try millions of random login combinations per second to get past the first wall of defense like a portal. Successful bots can glean login information, identify site vulnerabilities, and steal user information. Therefore, site managers should put guards in place to defeat the latest generation of brute force attacks. 

Secure Internally and Externally 

It is unlikely that bots will succeed with a brute force attack against good security, but it could happen if a hacker writes a particularly clever bot. If this bot succeeds in getting past the login page, all the data it finds behind that portal must be properly encrypted with the latest protections (the first point mentioned above). 

White Hat Hacking 

The idea of the “white hat” comes from Western movies, where the good guys always wear white. Black hat hackers try to collect data for nefarious purposes. On the other hand, white hat hackers are employed to try to breach a website with the intention of finding website vulnerabilities and then reporting back to the administrators so that they can be fixed. Most times, a white hat hacker won’t breach the system entirely — doing so could show up on logs and violate HIPAA audit trail requirements — but they will collect information about the most likely exploits a black hat hacker could find. 

Keep Users Informed 

Security measures aren’t just limited to the code. It’s also important to keep up to date with the users of a HIPAA website. Users of the site should be required to use robust passwords and two-factor authentication. Admins should inform employees of the most recent social engineering tactics that trick users into giving away information. 

Follow HIPAA Logging Requirements 

Speaking of HIPAA audit trail requirements, it’s incredibly important for anyone protecting a HIPAA website to have software in place that keeps track of access to the site. This includes who has access, when they accessed it, if they changed anything, and if anything was left behind (such as malicious code). It’s essentially a paper trail that can help prove that the proper steps were followed during an OCR HIPAA audit. There is a significant difference between being breached (something that could happen no matter what security was put in place) and willful negligence.  

Work As A Team 

It’s important for all relevant parties — including HIPAA compliance officers — to monitor and report what they come across, allowing them to have the time and resources to resolve any issues that may occur. Keep this in mind when looking into different platform suppliers to make sure they follow HIPAA audit trail requirements. You want to have ongoing maintenance and support planned for in order to ensure that your eCommerce or billing portal is secure and that you’ve given the appropriate resources for HIPAA standards to continue. 

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Accessibility & Access Restriction

Another important factor regarding automated pentesting and software audits is that the tests themselves only have access to what they are given. For example, if you or your provider just give them the website information, then those tools will not be able to penetrate all the way through to deeper levels, such as the hosting infrastructure. Ideally, this would never happen, but you probably want to audit multiple layers of defense to be sure your platform is truly secure. 

There are many options when allowing access to these automated tools. They can be installed in a way that they can access all the infrastructure behind the first layer of defense resources. Many cloud hosting providers offer audit tools for their cloud infrastructure, such as Amazon or Azure HIPAA compliance verification. Other HIPAA compliant website hosting providers also provide this type of information. 

You want to validate and test both the software and the infrastructure, which means securing your applications and portals while choosing a HIPAA compliant website provider. In addition, you should test behind the Firewall of the website, making sure that the database, physical files, and any other information is locked down and encrypted with HIPAA-compliant database software


Clarity: Your HIPAA Compliant Website Experts

We welcome the opportunity to collaborate and help you come up with a HIPAA compliance checklist so that you can choose the software that matches your budget and needs. You must do everything you can to keep up with HIPAA standards so that you are not found in violation when an OCR HIPAA audit occurs. Becoming a Clarity partner can make it happen. 

We hope this has helped you understand the importance of HIPAA auditing and penetration testing. If you have any questions or would like a complimentary review session, feel free to reach out to us here at Clarity. We have also provided further resources regarding HIPAA eCommerce and HIPAA billing portals below. We look forward to working with you. 

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