Hackers could be next HIPAA threat to long-term care, expert warns

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Protected health information breaches for long-term care facilities will migrate from accidental human-caused problems to outsiders gunning for valuable intelligence, one compliance expert predicted Tuesday.

HIPAA Breach Notification falls into four categories: malicious outsider attacks, such as hackers or phishers; malicious insider attacks, such as disgruntled employees; human error, such as a laptop left in the car or lack of a secure firewall; or environmental, such as a fire, flood, or loss of power.

The biggest group causing data breaches has traditionally been from human error, but that is changing, said John DiMaggio, the CEO at Blue Orange Compliance. He was a featured speaker for the session “Changes to HIPAA: How Privacy and Security Affect Your Business” at the annual Assisted Living Federation of America Conference and Exposition in Phoenix.

“More and more you will see these outsider attacks. If you get someone's Medicare information, you can figure out how to steal that information and bill,” he said. “The question is: How do we protect that information?”

Strategies can include locks on computer doors, technical safeguards and risk assessment.

“The key to good risk management is good risk assessment,” DiMaggio said. Providers also should make sure they are following good business practices such as monitoring network logs, maintaining a solid firewall and the right patches to software — and have a computer system that requires users to change their passwords on a regular basis.

The final Omnibus HIPAA rule is wide-ranging, and providers need to be up to speed, especially regarding “business associate” provisions, said Cliff Mull, a co-presenter and a partner at Benesch Law's Healthcare Practice. New obligations began in September 2013. Additionally, providers must know what their state law says.

“If the state laws are more strict than federal laws, than state law applies,” Mull said.

ALFA's Tuesday keynote speaker was General Stanley McChrystal, and tomorrow's will be Sir Ken Robinson. Former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, will be featured speakers at the ALFA Hero Awards Wednesday. The conference concludes Thursday.

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