School children raising their hands ready to answer the question.

In this series on establishing security classifications for your company’s information, last week’s post looked at one aspect – the widely varying definitions of Protected Information under state PII breach notification statutes. But if your organization is a covered entity or business associate under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the definition of Protected Health information (PHI) is also a key puzzle piece for your classification scheme.

HIPAA establishes national standards for the use and disclosure of PHI, and also for the safeguarding of individuals’ electronic PHI, by covered entities and business associates. Merely having information commonly thought of as “protected health information” does not mean that HIPAA applies. And there are some surprises in which organizations are – and are not – covered by HIPAA. So, that’s the first question to answer – is your company a HIPAA covered entity or business associate?

Continue Reading Adding more class to Information Governance (Part 2)

social-security-cardiStock_000029602510_LargeHIPAA and the IRS. There isn’t a whole lot of guidance out there about what to do when the IRS knocks on your organization’s door and asks for protected health information. Should the agency be treated as a cop or robber?

The most risk-averse approach for a HIPAA-covered entity or business associate to take is to treat the IRS as a potential thief and draw the deadbolt when it comes to data requests involving PHI. Such a tack would, among other things, comply fully with HIPAA’s minimum necessary requirement and, frankly, reinforce the Everyman attitude toward the agency. Moreover, PHI produced in response to an information document request (IRD) is unlikely to be treated under 45 CFR 164.512 as a disclosure required by law, a disclosure for an administrative proceeding, or a disclosure for a law enforcement purpose, because the IRS appears to lack the authority to compel compliance with an IRD. However, we should be careful that we don’t always and automatically view the IRS with HIPAA suspicion –  in some circumstances the IRS does perform a legitimate healthcare oversight function for which it may receive PHI without individual authorization, consistent with HIPAA’s treatment/ payment/ operations exception.
Continue Reading Cops or Robbers: PHI, the IRS and IRDs

Hacker at workAt DEF CON you’ll often hear that “every company is receiving penetration testing, but some companies pay for the pleasure.” My take is that every company pays for penetration testing – some companies pay in planned expenditures, but others pay in response costs, reputation loss, business interruption, legal liability, and increased insurance premiums. Or as Claus Moser observed, “Education costs money, but then so does ignorance.”

Last week’s DEF CON post shared insights from DEF CON 23 presenters on the fast-moving threat environment. Below are post-DEF CON observations on strengthening an organization’s cyber risk management strategy.
Continue Reading DEF CON 23—Part II: cyber risk management strategy

Hacker at workFaces lit by computers, the hackers’ objectives were clear — attack and defend. At this year’s DEF CON, the largest hacker convention in the United States, pre-qualified teams of hackers from around the globe faced-off in a network-security simulation that combined network sniffing, cryptanalysis, programming, reverse-engineering, and other tactics that would make Lisbeth Salander blush. Back in 1993, the first DEF CON had roughly 100 participants. This year, badges dangled from the necks of nearly 20,000 attendees, including hackers, lawyers, academics, journalists, and government officials.

DEF CON has an edgy narrative — it’s notorious for criminal exploits, wild parties, and Mohawk-fitted outcasts. But that story line is much too simple. And “too simple” is what security researchers—or hackers, depending on your sensibilities—proclaim after they expose the vulnerabilities in products and infrastructure we rely on daily.

Below are highlights and insights from presentations at DEF CON 23 that illustrate the evolving cyber risks and policy dilemmas facing governments, individuals, and the private sector.
Continue Reading DEF CON 23—Part I: Hackers highlight evolving cyber threats