The role of Cybersecurity in Health Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Solutions

The role of Cybersecurity in Health Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Solutions


Cybersecurity is a rapidly evolving field that has changed the dynamics of present-day health provision. At the swipe of a finger or the press of a button, gigabytes of information are shared to over a million computers.

Healthcare practitioners are, however, forever under the glare of malicious web operators. There is no telling when the next big hacking will occur or when a ransomware worth a million dollars is instigated on an unsuspecting hospital. The likes of Anthem Company have had a taste of what it means to experience massive loss due to a data breach caused by a cybersecurity attack.

The threat

Cybersecurity goes beyond the 16-character password. Electronic Health Record Systems in the past decade are prone to unauthorized access from various access points. In recent years, the use of mobile phones in providing and receiving health-related services has gone off the roof. There’s an estimated 165,000 health apps out there thanks to patient consumerization. Most of the population today prefers scheduling doctor appointments online, receiving prescriptions in the same way as well as accessing their own medical records. This is besides monitoring their own dietary and exercise routines using wearables.

1. Mobile phones and Wireless networks

Hospitals today are expanding their internet connectivity as part of their customer care improvement, but it is through these networks that users access the hospital’s external and internal systems using personal electronic gadgets.

As much as mobile phones have made healthcare more accessible, they are some of the most vulnerable gateway points through which data loss may occur. This is especially made possible in a situation where mobile phones are connected to a poorly configured wireless network.

2. The Cloud

Another cybersecurity risk that contributes to data loss is the insecure use of the cloud especially when file sharing. If an organization does not put measures to prevent their workers from saving their medical records in their private cloud, then patient health information can be tampered with.

Due to technological upgrades and the fact that the health sector deals with a large pool of data, many healthcare providers have resorted to the cloud as the data storage means of choice. Be it private, public or hybrid, if the data at rest or in transit is not well encrypted it can be intersected by the wrong persons.

3. Increased interoperability

The advent of IoT in healthcare has opened a completely new world in the sharing of information between devices. Smart medical devices that are interconnected handle sensitive PHI, which makes provision of services faster but also exposes it to the risk of attack. Integrating technology and keeping patient data safe is a big gamble that must be well played.

Regulatory requirements

Noncompliance with health standards is a crime punishable by law. Criminal and civil lawsuits can be filed by affected parties against a healthcare provider that fails to comply with the requirements and in consequence, lead to the exposure of PHI.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that was signed into law in 1997 sets the rules very clear as far and patient health privacy and security are concerned. The Privacy Rule defines the requirements that should be put in place to protect the use and disclosure of health data. The Security Rule looks to protect electronic PHI in particular through physical, technical, and administrative safeguards.

The HITECH Act of 2009 is the other regulatory policy that backs up the HIPAA Rules. Concerning the implementation of DLP, it promises a maximum reimbursement for companies that prove to use the Meaningful Use criteria in their system setups.

The Omnibus Ruling of 2013 follows in tandem to clarify the requirements and enforcement measures from the preceding rules. Apart from these, there are other state privacy regulations that seek to protect payment card industry (PCI) and patient health information.

Best practices

Due to these reasons, data loss prevention (DLP) is a major priority to any entity dealing with private health information. Cyber-insecurity is the problem, and cybersecurity is the solution.

DLP software- These are management tools developed to reduce the risk of data loss and therefore protect sensitive data. An effective data loss prevention tool monitors PHI for any suspicious signs of foreign intrusion and warns the user/pages the IT staff to take appropriate steps. This could be through a display prompt telling the user to shut down the system or cancel illegal downloads.

A data loss prevention tool uses a set of technologies and analysis engines to study patient names, medical record numbers (MRN) and divides it into files or packets. It then scans this information whether it is at rest in the database or in transit over the cloud and provides human intelligence. DLP software goes hand in hand with data encryption and should not be separated.

Enterprise DLPs are more recommended as they offer dynamic solutions based on the context and content of the client’s environment and the type of data being handled.

Data Protection Policies- As mentioned earlier, human laxity is the lead cause of data breach even in cybersecurity-based situations. Healthcare organizations should, therefore, put their best foot forward in training their employees and at the same time enforcing these guidelines.

Some of the policies that should be put in place include regular security assessments to analyze risk and mitigation factors. There should be a clear crisis management procedure as well in case of unprecedented data loss. Data backup is number one priority and should be implemented in any setup where sensitive information is on the line.

Other policy measures are the usual physical security minimums for data centers as well as destroying of paper documents, and hard drives once used.


Companies such as McAfee Inc and Symantec Corp are just some examples of vendors who provide data loss prevention software.

Cybersecurity and data loss prevention are intertwined. It is quite a trick protecting PHI while allowing full access to it by the interested parties but the HIPAA Privacy Rule says just that. The secret is a delicate balance between the two components.