6 Considerations for HIPAA Compliant Penetration Testing

Strategic and results-driven penetration testing (also known as pen testing) helps healthcare enterprises maintain the highest levels of network security across their entire organization. Often referred to as “ethical hacking,” a penetration test examines an organization’s digital enterprise vulnerabilities and assesses those vulnerabilities through the same methods that a real-world threat agent would. Pen testing goes above and beyond the basic scan to demonstrate impact following the successful exploitation of system, network, operating system, and application-based vulnerabilities.  Pen testing also includes testing for environment misconfigurations and weaknesses in cybersecurity awareness programs that might not be caught by such tools. When used in conjunction with a healthcare organization’s comprehensive data loss prevention efforts, penetration testing pinpoints cybersecurity vulnerabilities before an actual, external, data breach occurs.

Choosing The Right Pen Testing Process For Your Healthcare Data Environment

Pen testing is not specifically required for HIPAA compliance. However, the HIPAA standard 164.308(a)(8) does require periodic assessments of IT networks and systems to help healthcare facilities prevent cyber attacks and criminal activity within their platforms. Pen testing delivers real-world, real-time security evaluations of an organization’s digital protocol to help satisfy standard 164.308(a)(8) while elevating the overall protection of stored internal and patient data.

While many healthcare organizations recognize the benefits delivered from penetration testing, many executives and technology professionals don’t know what to look for when sourcing a third party MSSP to perform ethical hacking within their internal IT departments. It’s important to go into the process armed with the information you’ll need to designate an experienced provider that will help you increase cybersecurity efforts as well as maintain HIPAA compliance throughout the engagement.

Some essential considerations include:

Healthcare Expertise

Penetration testing is noisy at best.  However, when performed by a team that’s not familiar with the delicate nature of a healthcare IT environment, penetration testing can result in network congestion, service interruptions, damage to sensitive devices, or worse.  The already tumultuous and uncertain landscape within the healthcare industry often means it’s ill-equipped to manage these challenges, making it crucial to choose a team that knows to be mindful of medical devices and other sensitive resources as well as when and how to properly test those devices.

Certified And Experienced Team

Your chosen pen testing team will have access to your organization’s highly sensitive data. More importantly, your provider will also be proactively replicating actual cyber attack scenarios, making it vital to select a certified and experienced provider. Choosing a professional firm that specializes within the healthcare vertical means they’ll have the insight needed to sustain optimized network security throughout each provoked system vulnerability. Also, a properly experienced team will be able to deliver the findings in a way that makes sense to both executives and network administrators alike.  The findings of an experienced team will also strive to answer the “so what?” of any discovered security flaw.

Multiple Testing Formats

Qualified providers recognize that successful cybersecurity assessments test multiple formats. Internal and external evaluations are not enough. Look for a provider that also examines your wireless and application environments to help ensure that all points of access are systematically diagnosed to identify potential risks.

Define Scope And Objectives

Put simply: there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all penetration testing environment. Every healthcare organization’s data environment has its own distinctive systems, connected devices, and user practices, making it crucial to define the scope and objectives of the initiative before engaging in simulated cyber attacks. An innovative firm will carefully identify testing range, needs, and goals to develop a comprehensive approach that maximizes results.

Detailed Rules Of Engagement

Your chosen pen testing provider should provide a complete outline of the project’s Rules of Engagement (ROE). An ROE identifies all stakeholders as well as several key factors including testing timeframes, project targets, and potential limitations. By itemizing responsibilities and obligations, the ROE manages expectations and keeps the process moving forward as expediently as possible.

Documented Process & Rules Of Engagement

An efficient penetration testing engagement requires comprehensive documentation throughout every project phase. Your chosen provider will log and track every initiative segment before, during, and after testing. Maintaining consistent, full-scale documentation demonstrates testing completeness, precision, and most importantly, repeatability during future efforts.

Testing Reports

Pen testing professionals should always provide a project report that meets the client’s needs without being too difficult to follow.  Meeting the client’s needs means incorporating concerns or known issues of which stakeholders may already be aware. Incorporating such detail adds context that may align with organizational goals for security improvements and demonstrates that the testers are interested in helping improve security overall for the client.

The final report should prioritize all findings based on ultimate level of risk with detailed, but simple, resolution recommendations to amend potential system threats and vulnerabilities. Additionally, the submitted report should also include all the information required to reproduce findings as needed. Lastly, the report should be comprehensive, giving healthcare organizations easy access to the information they need without having to sift through multiple documents.  Different formats may be requested, but only as an addendum to the report for amplifying information.Fortified Health Security specializes in agile penetration testing solutions explicitly designed to safely simulate cyber attacks within a healthcare IT environment. Contact us today to learn more about how our testing approach can help you protect your stored data and maintain HIPAA compliance.