Healthcare Providers and Patients Deserve Better Security

Posted on June 1, 2015 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Anna Drachenberg, Founder and CEO of HIPAA Risk Management.
Anna Drachenberg

Our firm has been helping dentists and other healthcare providers with their HIPAA security compliance for several years. Based on our customers’ experience, many dentists lack healthcare IT partners who are committed to data security and HIPAA compliance.  Unfortunately, this lack of commitment appears to be an epidemic across healthcare IT, and healthcare providers and patients need to demand a change.

In our recent alert, Dentrix Vulnerabilities and Mitigation for HIPAA Compliance, we described two major vulnerabilities we’ve had to assist our clients in mitigating in order to protect their patients’ data and comply with our clients’ HIPAA security policies. Our regulatory and data security experts were concerned, on behalf of our clients, with the way Henry Schein handled these two issues. More concerning, this seems to be a trend with many healthcare IT companies.

From the article, “In October 2012, it was reported to the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) that all Dentrix G5 software was installed with hard-coded credentials to access the back-end database.” Pretty serious, right? The National Vulnerability Database gave this a severity score of 5.0 and an exploitability score of 10.0.  In the CERT notification you can see that the vulnerability was credited to Justin Shafer, not the vendor, Henry Schein, and there are several months between the time that the exploit was reported (11/22/2012) until Henry Schein released a fix for the issue (2/13/2013). Read the linked article for more details on the fix Henry Schein provided.

In a time when most industries are embracing security and offering “bug bounties,” many in the healthcare IT industry are trying to ignore the problem and hope that their customers are ignoring it, too. Take the recent panic over hackers controlling airplanes. What did United Airlines do? Offer a bug bounty that pays out in airlines miles that can be redeemed for free tickets. Most software and IT companies offer similar bug bounty programs and actively cooperate with independent security professionals. These companies know that every bug that is found before it is exploited can save millions of dollars and improve their product.

I’d like to challenge all of the blog readers today to find a healthcare IT vendor who has the same approach to security. For that matter, do a search on CERT vulnerability database or the National Vulnerability Database for any healthcare software or product you know or general terms like medical, hospital, healthcare. Surprised at the lack of issues reported and fixed? Are we really supposed to believe that the healthcare IT developers are superior to other industries?

Note: The only results in a search I did on 5/30/2015 of the National Vulnerability Database for “Epic” returns vulnerabilities in the Epic Games Unreal Tournament Engine. It is good to know that my video game company cares about my data security.

Everyone who purchases, administers, and uses healthcare IT systems and software deserves vendors who are committed to security. Consider for a moment – the customers of these products are the responsible parties for ensuring the security of the data they put in to these systems. Although the change to business associates under the HIPAA Omnibus Rule puts more liability on some of these vendors, the covered entity is still ultimately responsible and takes the hit to its reputation. Patients, the ones who experience harm when these systems are breached, have to rely on their doctors and other healthcare providers to ensure that the healthcare IT software and products are secure.  I don’t know about you, but I really hope that my physician spent more time in medical school learning about medicine than he did about encryption.

It’s time for all of us in the healthcare industry to demand that our vendors have the same level of commitment to security as the healthcare providers who are their customers. It’s time for all of us as patients to demand that these vendors improve the security of the products used by our healthcare providers.

One last note. In our alert, we link to Dentrix’s notice on the type of “encryption” they offer on one of their products. From Dentrix’s article:

“Henry Schein introduced cryptographic technology in Dentrix version G5 to supplement a practice’s employee policies, physical safeguards and data security. Available only in Dentrix G5, we previously referred to this feature as encryption. Based on further review, we believe that referring to it as a data masking technique using cryptographic technology would be more appropriate. Regardless of what you call it…”

To your clients, it matters what the federal government “calls” it, and they don’t call it encryption.

About Anna Drachenberg
Anna Drachenberg has more than 20 years in the software development and healthcare regulatory fields, having held management positions at Pacificare Secure Horizons, Apex Learning and the Food and Drug Administration. Anna co-founded HRM Services, Inc., (hipaarisk.com) a data security and compliance company for healthcare. HRM offers online risk management software for HIPAA compliance and provides consulting services for covered entities and business associates. HRM has clients nationwide and also partners with IT providers, medical associations and insurance companies.