The weak link in your HIPAA security plan

Written by Fletcher Dennison on October 28, 2013

For good reason the majority of people who use the Internet are concerned about privacy and security. It’s something we get asked about a lot here at SimplePractice as our customers need to know that the information they enter into our software is protected because the ramifications for breaches are quite costly. This is why we allocate significant resources to ensure our technical infrastructure is sound. However, it is very important to note that while it is essential that you make sure the products and services you use are following the proper security protocols, it’s equally important to maintain strict security measures on your own devices. This is one area that individuals often overlook.

You’re probably familiar with the metaphor that says a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. When it comes to the security of your data on computers and the internet, there are many links and places where things can fail and you may be surprised at where some of these points of failure are. We are going to assume that by now you all know how important it is to choose complex passwords that are at least 8 characters and contain combinations of upper and lower case letters, as well as numbers and other characters, so we won’t spend time on that. Instead we want to point out two of the most common security oversights we see:

Outdated browsers and operating systems

Your computer’s browser and operating system are two of the most important pieces of software for protecting the data you transmit over the internet and even the data you store on your hard drive. With HIPAA and HITECH rules, this is particularly important if you are dealing with protected health information (PHI). However many individuals allow their browsers and operating systems to become outdated and at risk by ignoring updates.

Here’s why these updates are so critical

Operating system and browser updates often include security patches, new security features, and privacy measures. If you have a security flaw in your browser or operating system all the data on your computer and all the data you access on the internet is at risk. It doesn’t matter how many security measures have been taken by the technology products and services you use, if you access them from an unsecured computer, mobile device, or web browser, you are putting all your data at risk. This includes both files you may have stored on your computer as well as any PHI you access via the internet like an electronic health record (EHR). It only takes one link to break in order for the whole security chain to fail.

The added benefit of updates

When you update you browser, not only do you maintain security while online, you also make the internet faster and more user-friendly. Most websites are designed to operate on the newest browsers so when you are online with an outdated browser, there’s a possibility that some websites may not work like they are supposed to.

Why does it matter what browser I use?

Most people don’t know this, but every version of every browser interacts with a website differently so it’s costly and time consuming for a website developer to tailor the experience to all of these different browser versions. Every website faces this issue, so it’s not just SimplePractice features that may behave strangely when you login with an outdated browser, an old browser can cause trouble on Gmail, Amazon, or any other website you visit.

One browser that’s particularly troublesome for both users and website developers is Internet Explorer. Google, facebook and other major websites have stopped supporting old versions of this browser. It’s becoming more and more obsolete so we recommend switching from Internet Explorer to either the Firefox, Chrome, or Safari browsers. If you’re not already using one of these here’s where you can download them:

If you’re already using one of these browsers here’s how you can check to make sure you have the latest version:

Update your browser

  • Firefox users: Go to this link.
  • Safari users: Click on the Apple menu in the upper left corner of your Mac. Select “Software Update” to make sure you have the latest version of Safari.
  • Chrome users: Go to the menu icon on the right side of your Chrome browser window and select “About Google Chrome” from the drop-down menu.

When it comes to security, you’re uncompromising about the products and services you use, so why compromise the security of your own computer? Keep that security chain strong and stop putting off operating system and browser updates.

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About the Author

Fletcher Dennison is the Product Manager at SimplePractice. He's focused on helping professionals run their practices better.

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