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From Risk to Resilience: Achieving HIPAA Standards in Your App

The healthcare industry is rapidly expanding, with an estimated growth of 40% over the next 3 years. This growth will be partially fueled by software, providing the automation and tools necessary to efficiently service patients. However, to service the medical industry in the US, software needs to conform to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Unfortunately, not every software solution is up to the task, as 78% of Healthcare data breaches were due to hacking and IT incidents in 2022, many of which could have been prevented with better security design and practices. These breaches contributed to the massive 133 million records compromised in 2023 in the US alone. 

Meeting HIPAA standards is no guarantee that your application won’t be breached, but it certainly helps to make it a harder target. In this article, we will explore the challenges in building a HIPAA-compliant application and suggest actionable steps to take in development. 

HIPAA Compliance is Hard

Achieving HIPAA compliance is daunting due to its intricate regulations covering everything from how data is transmitted to intricately tracking data access. It prescribes a wide array of security controls but leaves a wide range of flexibility by having the organization determine what is reasonably necessary to protect the data. This can be quite complex for a standard covering the IT infrastructure and how users interact with protected health information (PHI). Failures to meet these compliance standards can result in massive fines, some of which have topped $100 million.

Reasonable is Tricky

One of the most confusing challenges organizations face when attempting to meet HIPAA security mandates is that most guidance is based on implementing “reasonable” security measures. Reasonable security is difficult to determine based on each organization’s unique risk profile. This is often self-assessed by analyzing the organization to determine what constitutes reasonable security in their environment.

HIPAA calls for periodic risk assessments to identify and address system vulnerabilities to ensure effective risk analysis and maintain reasonable security. This involves regular security testing, including penetration testing and vulnerability assessments, to protect PHI consistently. Furthermore, covered entities are required to have robust vulnerability management procedures. These include detecting, reporting, and resolving security vulnerabilities and keeping systems updated through patch management. 

What Rules Are Fixed?

Although “reasonable” security in HIPAA can seem nebulous, several fixed rules are almost always universally applicable and non-negotiable for compliance. It starts by protecting the data with encryption, both at rest and in transit, to prevent patient data from unauthorized access. This control is augmented by access controls, which ensure that only authorized individuals can access sensitive information. Audit controls then add a layer of protection by tracking access and health information changes, enhancing accountability and security.

To help reduce potential exposures, vulnerability testing rounds out these controls, scanning hardware and software infrastructure for known vulnerabilities. Without implementing proactive software vulnerability analysis, developed code may go into production with known security weaknesses, likely leading to a breach and HIPAA non-compliance. 

Achieving HIPAA Compliance In Your App

Achieving HIPAA compliance in your application requires a strategic and organized approach. Start by creating a comprehensive checklist that covers all HIPAA requirements. Initially, focus on applying the fixed rules, such as vulnerability testing, encryption for data transmission, access and audit controls, and data backup procedures. These serve as the foundational elements of your compliance strategy. Once these core components are securely in place, expand your efforts to include dedicated testing and remediation processes.

Show Due Diligence in Development

In achieving HIPAA compliance, showing due diligence in vulnerability management is crucial. This process is not a one-time activity but must be integral to the development lifecycle. Regular testing, which goes beyond surface-level checks, is essential. It’s not just about scrutinizing the code for vulnerabilities; it also involves an in-depth analysis of exposed APIs and other potential security weak points. This comprehensive approach ensures all vulnerabilities are identified, tracked, and managed effectively.

Meeting HIPAA With Probely

Probely is a comprehensive tool for HIPAA-compliant application development. It goes beyond basic compliance by scanning for over 3000 vulnerabilities, including critical ones like SQL Injections and Cross-site Scripting (XSS), aligned with the OWASP Top 10. By integrating Probely into your development process, you save time and money through its automated, continuous security scanning capabilities and address potential vulnerabilities early. This ensures that web applications securely store electronic protected health information (ePHI), offering peace of mind to developers and patients relying on these applications.

Learn more about how Probely assists you in achieving HIPAA compliance for your applications by trying out a risk-free demo.