Cloud

HHS explains intersection of cloud and HIPAA

Shutterstock image (by Maksim Kabakou): cloud computing concept, security.

The Department of Health and Human Services is dealing with questions about how to reconcile complex health data protection regulations from the 1990s with the rapidly evolving world of cloud IT.

HHS' Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for overseeing protection of sensitive data under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, issued guidance on Oct. 6 explaining how to guard electronic health information protected under HIPAA rules in today's diffuse cloud networking environment.

The law seeks to protect health insurance coverage for workers when they change or lose jobs, and it protects the security and confidentiality of their health care information.

Applying the latter protections, such as ensuring that only people authorized to handle personal information are able to do so, is much harder in a cloud environment, where the rules about what must be protected and from whom are not always distinct.

HHS officials said the new guidance focuses on cloud service providers that offer online access to shared computing resources with varying levels of functionality depending on the users' requirements -- ranging from data storage to complete software solutions such as electronic medical record systems, app development and software development.

The guidance notes that cloud vendors that store protected data are not exempt from HIPAA obligations, even if they don't have access to encryption keys to unlock the data. Encryption does not guarantee that the information is not corrupted by malware and does not provide for always-on availability during emergency or disaster situations, the guidance states.

CSPs are also subject to breach notification rules that apply to business associates of health care providers in the event information is stolen or compromised.

The guidance also assures health care providers that they may access cloud-based health information via mobile devices "as long as appropriate physical, administrative and technical safeguards are in place to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability" of the information.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


Featured

  • Defense
    Soldiers from the Old Guard test the second iteration of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) capability set during an exercise at Fort Belvoir, VA in Fall 2019. Photo by Courtney Bacon

    IVAS and the future of defense acquisition

    The Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System has been in the works for years, but the potentially multibillion deal could mark a paradigm shift in how the Defense Department buys and leverages technology.

  • Cybersecurity
    Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lora Ratliff)

    Mayorkas announces cyber 'sprints' on ransomware, ICS, workforce

    The Homeland Security secretary announced a series of focused efforts to address issues around ransomware, critical infrastructure and the agency's workforce that will all be launched in the coming weeks.

Stay Connected