Kusserow on Compliance: The OIG on Health IT security

Many are not aware of the fact that the HHS OIG boasts having an A-class team that focuses on IT controls and engages in what they refer to as penetration testing or “hacking” into IT systems and networks. With 100 million health care records already compromised and medical records serving as a top target for hackers, healthcare related cybersecurity has become a high priority for the OIG. Health IT offers some unique challenges, in that health records are for a lifetime, whereas credit cards may have a shelf life, if they’re compromised, of just a day or two. This makes them very valuable for criminals that can often realize 60 times more than what a stolen credit card can yield on the dark web. Compromised health information could have wide-ranging consequences, including affecting credit and even someone filing a false tax return with the information. In addition to people’s personal information, there is concern about health care provider and managed care proprietary information.

The OIG IT audits begin with setting an audit objective, which varies according to what they are trying to accomplish. The OIG desires to provide transparent and objective assessments of the security posture of the systems within HHS and those that receive funding from HHS. The OIG engages in penetration testing, as a means to help strengthen IT vulnerabilities. By engaging in penetration testing or “hacking into” IT networks, the OIG is able to provide chief information officers, and sometimes CFOs, with information regarding particular vulnerabilities. Among the common testing of IT systems is determining whether passwords are being changed periodically.  The OIG stated guiding philosophy is that “what gets checked gets done.” By identifying vulnerabilities, they draw management attention to addressing them and raising their awareness to cybersecurity.

The OIG wants to ensure that funds for cybersecurity, and ultimate for technology, are being used judiciously, and overall the OIG is working every day to protect sensitive personal and proprietary data. The OIG is using its resources to enhance awareness around cybersecurity.  The OIG focuses much of its resources on IT controls for the Medicare enrollment database; however the OIG does not confine its work to the Medicare and Medicaid space. The OIG is also looking at IT security at NIH, Indian health hospitals throughout the country, and FDA information on drugs and medical devices. The OIG typically addresses reports to senior level personnel, such as the CEO and Chief Information Officer, and often addresses reports to state administrators for Medicare and Medicaid.

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

House committee takes interest in ‘NotPetya’ malware attack fallout

House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders are concerned that a malware attack from late June 2017, known as “Petya” or “NotPetya,” may have lingering effects on Merck & Co, Inc. The leaders sent letters to Merck’s CEO and HHS Secretary Price expressing this concern and requesting additional information about the attack and the effects on the company.

NotPetya

The malware infection began on June 27, 2017, and spread across the world, infecting businesses from a variety of sectors. At the time of the attack, the extent of Merck’s vulnerability was not precisely known, although an employee reported that they were told to stop working and some computers appeared to be wiped and that all U.S. offices were affected by the attack. The committee letters referred to information provided in Merck’s second-quarter 2017 financial outlook, which stated that packing operations were mostly restored, formulation operations were partially restored, and active pharmaceutical ingredient operations were partially restored but bulk product was not yet being produced.

Patient risk

The committee’s interest in the matter stemmed from concern that patients may have been negatively impacted by manufacturing disruption. Although evidence of such risk was not present, the committee pointed to an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that certain formulations of Merck’s Hepatitis B vaccine would not be available. The committee requested that Merck provide a formal briefing to the committee on the initial infection and Merck’s steps to recover and resume manufacturing by October 4, 2017. The committee also requested an HHS briefing on the agency’s steps to understand and respond to the situation as well as plans for addressing drug shortages or other consequences stemming from cyberattacks.

IT experts say foreign actors, human error biggest threats to health record security

Foreign hackers and human error are two of the most significant threats to protected health information (PHI) and other health records that providers and health care entities must prepare for, according to four information technology experts speaking at a conference sponsored by Becker’s Hospital Review. They all agreed that breaches and cyberattacks will continue, so health care institutions must be diligent about security systems, audits, training, insurance, and adequately responding to breaches to mitigate punishment and quickly recovery from an attack..

Weakest link 

Aaron Miri, chief information officer for Imprivita, and Michael Leonard, director at Commvault, both noted that regardless of the tools and systems put in place to ward off breaches, malware, ransomware, and other cybersecurity threats, people will always be the weakest link. Leonard noted that when it comes to an institution’s cybersecurity program, “people training has to be continuous and repetitive.”

Katherine Downing, senior director at the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), highlighted one type of “insider threat”—physicians who do work arounds that bypass the security features of electronic health record (EHR) systems (like texting PHI about patients to each other). Although David Miller, CEO of HCCIO Consulting, LLC, was blunter when asked what the biggest threat was to PHI and other health records—”Russia and China.”

Jurisdictions

Miri noted that providers must deal with a “wide disparity of laws” regarding the security and privacy of health information, not just federal and state laws, but, starting in May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) issued by the European Union. The GDPR replaces a framework of different information security measures that mainly affected just European companies with a national network and information security strategy that will impact American life sciences and healthcare entities that collect and/or use any data concerning health, genetic data, or other types of protected health information (PHI).

Audits

Miller expressed amazement at how many health care institutions have not had a HIPAA audit in the previous two years. The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reviews organizations’ compliance with the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules and looks for documentary proof that entities have conducted risk assessments and created and implemented policies and procedures governing areas including the shielding of PHI. Miller noted that providers must continually educate and re-educate staff on policies related to HIPAA. But he added that providers can also “take advantage of a breach situation to talk to senior management to increase security measures.”

Record retention

In addition to protecting PHI, health care entities have to make decisions about destroying records after record retention periods have ended. Katherine Downing, senior director at the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), noted that entities “can’t keep everything forever.” Downing noted that health care entities already have the expense of saving, backing up, and securing required health records; doing the same for older records that no longer have to be retained is just an added expense.

In the end, Miri noted that these are the questions that health care entities have to ask: What are they willing to spend to avoid a breach? What are they willing to risk regarding their reputations?

OIG reviews MassHealth and its Medicaid data and information system safeguards

MassHealth failed to adequately safeguard data and information systems through its Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS) according to an audit by the HHS’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) undertaken to determine whether Massachusetts safeguarded MMIS data as required under federal requirements.

What is MMIS?

The MMIS is “an integrated group of procedures and computer processing operations (subsystems) developed at the general design level to meet principal objectives” which are: Title XIX program control and administrative costs; service to recipients, providers and inquiries; operations of claims control and computer capabilities; and management reporting for planning and control. States receive 90 percent federal financial participation (FFP) for design, development, or installation of MMIS and 75 percent FFP for operation of state mechanized claims processing and information retrieval systems.

MassHealth MMIS

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services is responsible for administering the state Medicaid program, commonly known as MassHealth, and information technology architecture, maintenance, and support is provided by the Massachusetts Office of Information Technology. Application support is provided through a contract with Hewlett-Packard.

The audit

Audits of information security controls are performed routinely on states’ computer systems used to administer HHS-funded programs and states are required to implement computer system security requirements and review them biennially. The OIG’s audit of MassHealth’s MMIS included MassHealth’s websites, databases, and other supporting information systems. The review was limited to security control areas and controls in place at the time of the visit. Specifically, the OIG looked at MassHealth’s implementation of federal requirements and National Institute of Standards and Technology guidelines regarding: system security plan, risk assessment, data encryption, web applications, vulnerability management, and database applications. Preliminary findings were communicated directly to MassHealth prior to the report’s issuance.

OIG’s findings

The OIG found MassHealth did not safeguard MMIS data and supporting systems as required by federal requirements. Vulnerabilities were discovered related to security management, configuration management, system software controls, and website and database vulnerability scans. Should exploitation of the vulnerabilities have occurred (and there was no evidence that it had), sensitive information could have been accessed and disclosed and operations of MassHealth could have been disrupted. Sufficient controls must be implemented over MassHealth Medicaid data and information systems.

Specific vulnerabilities uncovered were not detailed in the report because of the sensitive nature of the information. However, specific details were provided to MassHealth so it may address the issues. In response to the report, MassHealth described corrective actions it had taken or planned to take in response to the vulnerabilities.