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HHS Guidance: Health Industry Cybersecurity Practices

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) just before the New Year announced the publication of “Health Industry Cybersecurity Practices: Managing Threats and Protecting Patients” (the “Cybersecurity Practices”). The Cybersecurity Practices were developed by the Healthcare & Public Health Sector Coordinating Councils Public Private Partnership, a group comprised of over 150 cybersecurity and healthcare experts from government and private industry.

The Cybersecurity Practices are currently composed of four volumes:

  1. the Main Document
  2. Technical Volume of cybersecurity practices for small healthcare organizations
  3. Technical Volume of cybersecurity practices for medium and large healthcare organizations; and
  4. Resources and Templates Volume.

The Cybersecurity Practices also will include a Cybersecurity Practices Assessments Toolkit, but that is still under development.

The Main Document provides an overview of prominent cyber attacks against healthcare organizations and statistics on the costs of such attacks—such as that in 2017, cyber attacks cost small and medium-sized businesses an average of $2.2 million—and lists the five most common cybersecurity threats that impact the healthcare industry:

  1. email phishing attacks
  2. ransomware attacks
  3. loss or theft of equipment or data
  4. insider, accidental or intentional data loss; and
  5. attacks against connected medical devices that may affect patient safety.

The Main Document describes real world scenarios exemplifying each threat, lists “Threat Quick Tips,” analyzes the vulnerabilities that lead to such threats, discusses the impact of such threats and provides practices for healthcare organizations (and their employees) to consider to counter such threats. The Main Document concludes by noting that it is essential for healthcare organizations and government to distribute “relevant, actionable information that mitigates the risk of cyber-attacks” and argues for a “culture change and an acceptance of the importance and necessity of cybersecurity as an integrated part of patient care.”

The two Technical Volumes list the following 10 cybersecurity practices for small and medium and large healthcare organizations:

  • email protection systems;
  • endpoint protection systems;
  • access management;
  • data protection and loss prevention;
  • asset management;
  • network management;
  • vulnerability management;
  • incident response;
  • medical device security; and
  • cybersecurity policies.

The Technical Volumes also list cybersecurity sub-practices and advice for healthcare organizations to follow, with the noted distinction that small healthcare organizations are focused on cost-effective solutions while medium and large organizations may have more “complicated ecosystems of IT assets.”

Finally, the Resources and Template Volume maps the 10 cybersecurity practices and sub-practices to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. It also provides templates such as a Laptop, Portable Device, and Remote Use Policy and Procedure, Security Incident Response Plan, an Access Control Procedure, and a Privacy and Security Incident Report.

In announcing the Cybersecurity Practices, HHS Acting Chief Information Security Officer stated that cybersecurity is “the responsibility of every organization working in healthcare and public health. In all of our efforts, we must recognize and leverage the value of partnerships among government and industry stakeholders to tackle the shared problems collaboratively.”

The Cybersecurity Practices follow other key important cybersecurity documents published by HHS, including the checklist on cyberattacks and the ransomware fact sheet.


Blog courtesy of Hunton Andrews Kurth, a U.S.-based law firm with a Global Privacy and Cybersecurity practice that’s known throughout the world for its deep experience, breadth of knowledge and outstanding client service. Read the company’s privacy blog here.

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