Small businesses are often led by misconceptions when it comes to HIPAA. Our free e-book can help with proper HIPAA compliance for start-ups.
Being a start-up company is a highly promising yet challenging mission, especially when it comes to healthcare data protection. If your start-up has been working with healthcare entities at least once, then you should know what we are talking about.
The Holy Grail of healthcare data is Protected Health Information (PHI) and most businesses understand the importance of HIPAA compliance to protect it. In practice, however, many decision-makers are misled by misconceptions regarding HIPAA compliance for start-ups.
The misconceptions make startups and the data they hold enormously susceptible to cyber incidents and breaches. And these are not just empty words. The number of significant PHI breaches increased by 45% from 2019 to 2021. Furthermore, an increasing amount of healthcare data incidents involve small service providers and start-ups whose security vulnerabilities serve as the backdoor to healthcare giants with thousands of sensitive PHI.
In this article, we debunk some HIPAA-related misconceptions to help strengthen your data security posture and increase awareness.
This is a very common misconception to think that HIPAA compliance is not applicable if the business is not in the healthcare industry. While healthcare organizations are well aware of the need to abide by HIPAA, some non-medical businesses erroneously think that HIPAA compliance does not apply to them, at the same time, providing services to healthcare organizations.
Remember, any business that stores, processes, transmits, or generates PHI must comply with HIPAA You may be a small law firm or a data management startup, but your HIPAA compliance obligations start once you’ve touched PHI. In this context, your start-up acts as a business associate – an entity that performs functions that involve the use or disclosure of PHI on behalf of, or provides services to a covered entity.
In terms of data incidents, attacks on small start-ups are seen as supply chain attacks. Such kinds of attacks aim to access information held by targeted healthcare organizations by attacking less-secure links in the supply chain. And start-ups are often those weak links in the chain.
HIPAA compliance demands additional expenses yet it is necessary. Audits, risk analyses, and vulnerability scans – are the limited set of actions necessary to achieve and maintain HIPAA compliance. Given the fact that businesses in their early developmental stages often have limited resources, many of them may yield compliance efforts in favor of other tasks. Particularly, in the beginning, start-ups are more concerned with hiring essential staff to get the products and services to the market. The staff typically includes data scientists, software developers, sales, etc. Such a wrong assumption does not play into the business’ hands and may turn into a catastrophe in case of a data breach.
The financial and reputational effects of a security breach are long-lasting and may easily lead to business closure. Thus, with the increasing amount of threats to data, it is critical for firms, regardless of their size, to close all compliance gaps and risks to work with data more confidently.
Small businesses rarely become a prime target of cybercriminals. However, they often become the gateways that allow attacking large organizations with thousands of cyber-attacks that are not necessarily targeted at a specific company; criminals run random opportunity scans to identify systems with vulnerabilities, and any vulnerable systems may be discovered with such scans.
Additionally, hackers do their homework. Was there a press release published about a start-up signing a contract with a big client? If so, that start-up is now on cybercriminals’ target map. Hackers know that it is often much easier to get to their prime target through the target’s vendors, who may have a lower cybersecurity posture. Read more about how small businesses provide criminals with initial access to large corporations in our blog posts: Roadmap for Ransomware Protection and 2022 Cybersecurity Trends.
Finally, many attacks come internally when unloyal employees exfiltrate, steal, or sell companies’ secrets and other sensitive data. There are many cases when healthcare organizations report insider data breaches. Thus, internal threats should also be identified and assessed when designing your data security plan. More information about insider data incidents can be found in our article: Fall 2021: Summary of Healthcare Data Breaches.
Continuing the topic of start-up HIPAA compliance, there are many other misconceptions that should be taken into consideration. There are those who think they can shift the security and compliance responsibility to cloud service providers, others consider encryption as a silver bullet in solving data security. And some believe that addressable standards provided in the HIPAA Security Rule are optional. Are these assumptions correct? No! In our free HIPAA Compliance E-Book we debunk these and other myths.