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Real-World Case Study for HIPAA Storage and Sharing: Nextcloud & HIPAA Compliance

Kent Roberts
by Atlantic.Net (77 posts) under HIPAA Compliant Hosting
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One major advantage of cloud computing is the ability to leverage huge amounts of cloud storage on demand. When you choose a HIPAA Compliant Hosting Provider like Atlantic.Net, you get Cloud Storage that meets and exceeds the complex requirements of HIPAA-Compliance.

The HIPAA-Compliance Security Rule requires that any organization handling Protected Health Information (PHI) must implement appropriate cybersecurity measures to protect this information, and this includes Cloud Storage.

In this case study, we take a deep dive into Nextcloud and discuss why it makes the perfect Cloud Storage solution for HIPAA-Compliance. There is no cookie-cutter solution for HIPAA; each organization is different, but Nextcloud’s appeal is its ability to offer something to all healthcare organizations.

Hospital System Needs HIPAA-Compliant Document Collaboration and Communication

While collaboration and communication are built into a huge number of tools available from Cloud Providers, the biggest problem is that the majority of them are not HIPAA-Compliant. As a result hospitals, doctors’ groups, and any company using PHI need to look elsewhere for cloud solutions.

A hospital system contacted Atlantic.Net to help them set up a storage and sharing site that would meet HIPAA compliance standards. The site would allow the developers to create various folders for each of the organization’s hospitals so that each could upload its patient reports.

Access to this site would be limited to two users per hospital. The unique login credentials for those users would enable them to enter the site via VPN and multi-factor authentication (MFA) and download the folder and data related to their hospital while blocking them from seeing or accessing the folders of other hospitals.

Atlantic.Net offered to configure and manage a server-side HIPAA compliant storage solution. While the infrastructure and security are from Atlantic.Net, the underlying software platform is from Nextcloud.

How Does Nextcloud Help Deliver HIPAA Compliance?

Nextcloud makes patient information available to healthcare professionals when they need it through an easy-to-use interface with the highest degree of reliability, security, and privacy.

Nextcloud is designed for on-premise security, secure productivity, and ease of use.  You do not want the user’s experience to be complicated, especially not in the critical environment of healthcare, in which errors can have devastating consequences. Access is clear. Everything is visible to those who are authorized to see it.

File Access Control (FAC) is a key capability of Nextcloud that allows organizations to maintain compliance. Through FAC, you can build policy and legal guidelines into your processes. You can create strict rules that prevent anyone who does not have proper authorization (based on various chosen characteristics) from viewing, uploading, or downloading files.

Encryption is easy to implement within Nextcloud. ePHI should be encrypted (or protected via alternative means) whether it is in transit or at rest, as a best practice. Following that requirement, Nextcloud can be configured to use SSL/TLS encryption whenever data is transferred, and Atlantic.Net can provide the VPN connections to ensure all data transmitted is encrypted and safe from prying eyes.

When data is at rest in storage, Atlantic.Net already takes care of encrypting your data based on the AES-256 standard – a military-grade cryptographic algorithm. Key management for this system is managed by Atlanitc.Net, so you and your team have one less issue to worry about. Nextcloud is simple to integrate with your current systems or to pair with leading healthcare cloud offerings.

Nextcloud gives you the ability to closely monitor and log everything with or without the addition of tools such as OpenNMS, Splunk, or Nagios. Through features such as these – features to allow for a HIPAA-compliant environment – Nextcloud enhances your documents and communication security.

When you partner with a HIPAA Compliant hosting company and use Nextcloud for storage, Nextcloud features all of the technical safeguards required for HIPAA Compliance. The administrative, physical, and technical safeguards built into the Atlantic.Net HIPAA-compliant hosting make the perfect platform for a Nextcloud solution.

Here are some of the key features of Nextcloud:

  • Advanced Access Control capabilities
  • Automatic expiration of passwords
  • Account lockout upon multiple failed log-in attempts
  • Automatic virus scans
  • Secure data backups
  • Audit-ready logging of all user actions
  • Data-at-rest, in-transit, and full end-to-end encryption
  • Email verification and multi-factor authentication

User-Friendly HIPAA Compliant experience

Nextcloud’s offering gives you integration for better overall productivity. The Nextcloud clients deliver a seamless experience regardless of the means of access throughout all your desktop and mobile devices.

Your team can collaborate on files in real-time, perform secure video and audio calls, and perform secure chat. Nurses and doctors are able simply to locate files and revert files to earlier saved versions. Together, these capabilities improve productivity as they enhance security.

HIPAA Security Rule and the Cloud

To understand this healthcare platform, it helps to review HIPAA itself. At the core of HIPAA, particularly for digital systems, is the Security Rule, which takes the patient privacy rights established in the Privacy Rule and protects them through a mandate for technical, administrative, and physical safeguards.

These designations are a bit broader than they may first seem. For instance, technical protections refer to not only data-safeguarding tools (such as a virtual private network) but also policies and procedures applicable to those tools.

HIPAA protections must be robust, whether they are in public, private, or hybrid cloud models; the Department of Health and Human Services stipulates that the business associate agreement (BAA) of a provider should reflect the nature of the environment, with risk evaluation revealing necessary points of focus for the BAA.

Strengthening Cloud Security

Cloud Computing has built a firm reputation of being a highly secure environment, and the Atlantic.Net HIPAA Compliant cloud has been built from the group up to be a security-defined infrastructure. It starts with our data centers. These buildings are more like secure compounds; each is monitored 24×7 and has ever-present security personnel. CCTV, door access controls, and access to the premises are closely monitored and audited.

The technical solution is architected to the highest security standards. Network segregation, encryption, and managed firewalls are just the start. Atlantic.Net’s approach to cloud security meets and exceeds all HIPAA security and privacy requirements.

If you choose to self-host Nextcloud, consider these two critical concerns:

How Do You Handle the Insider Threat?

Time and resources invested in security often go toward high-end security tools that use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other cutting-edge technologies. You can only put so much trust in those systems, though. It is important to recognize that hacking efforts such as social engineering can specifically target your people as a way into your organization.

Human error is a serious concern. This might be caused by inadequate training or by a genuine mistake. Employees may unintentionally not follow proper mitigation or authentication steps when handling PHI. 

All of these problems go away when you choose to outsource to Atlantic.Net.

Adapt to the Ongoing and Evolving Challenge

You may not reach perfection when it comes to cybersecurity or healthcare compliance – especially given the increasing complexity of IT systems that now typically include internally supported systems integrated with those of Cloud Hosts and other Managed Service Providers. You simply need to minimize risk in any way possible.

Your HIPAA-Compliant Cloud Storage

Did you know you can easily use Nextcloud on Atlantic.Net? We have 1-click Nextcloud applications that install in under 30 seconds with no configuration to be done by you; simply spin up the Nextcloud server (it takes about 2 or 3 clicks) and then connected to your Nextcloud website. It’s that simple!  This allows you to test it out, and once you are ready, our specialized team of security engineers deploys your HIPAA-compliant environment for you.  

At Atlantic.Net we help you reduce risk through access to our tested, trusted healthcare solutions. Our one-click Nextcloud app allows you to integrate server-side compliance seamlessly into your IT approach. See our HIPAA-compliant cloud hosting & storage.

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