One of the primary objectives of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance framework is to improve the security and maintain the confidentiality of patients’ health records. In due course of treatment, patients reveal any personally identifiable information (PII), including their social security number and credit card information. These details and their protected health information (PHI), including their diagnoses, treatment plans, and medical bills, must be kept private.
Any organization or individual dealing with patient information may become liable with significant penalties if they are found to be in breach of the HIPAA laws of Privacy and Security. Therefore, maintaining patient records is important in the healthcare industry.
Keeping track of information system activity and keeping tabs on who, when, and how accesses patient records is, therefore, imperative to ensure the security and privacy of patient information. This is where HIPAA audit logs come in. Audit logs are used for this tracking—they serve as system records and are necessary for HIPAA compliance.
This blog will give you a comprehensive overview of the HIPAA audit logs and their requirements.
What are HIPAA audit logs?
HIPAA audit logs are reports detailing every system activity, including who entered the network when, what they did, and which patient data or documents they viewed.
How do they help improve security and confidentiality? Cybersecurity professionals and IT managers can examine them to identify trends and anomalies and more efficiently handle threats. Using proper audit logs, organizations can prevent security incidents, promptly identify data breaches, and better understand how and why they happen.
Organizations can adhere to the HIPAA Minimum Necessary Rule, which mandates that healthcare providers only access PHI for particular purposes related to their job function, assisted by audit logs. Audit logs identify and monitor each employee’s and business partner’s typical access patterns. These patterns and trends make it simpler to spot abnormalities showing that a user is abusing their access rights or trying to access a system, application, or file without authorization.
What is the purpose of HIPAA audit logs?
Your IT infrastructure analyzes thousands of unique events, including configuration adjustment events, user access events, and security issue events daily. Administrators and security specialists must comprehend these events because they demonstrate when, how, and whether something went wrong, thus, better preventing and managing security risks.
A secure system preserves audit logs that offer a trail of evidence that can be utilized for compliance reporting and forensics in cases of a HIPAA breach to maintain records of these events effectively.
HIPAA audit logs are used for:
- Compliance: Audit logs are required by most security requirements, including HIPAA. These logs serve the dual purposes of enabling data breach investigations and administering as proof of compliance for audits.
- Forensics: After a data breach, a company needs to act quickly to assess the situation and reduce the damage so that security flaws may be fixed. With trustworthy audit trails, this process is possible in huge IT infrastructures.
- Disaster Recovery: Businesses must act quickly to restore operations if a non-security problem causes data loss or a loss of system interoperability. Audit logs can be used by automated and manual recovery attempts to ensure they recognize and fix the issue and prevent it from happening again.
Features of HIPAA Audit Logs
HIPAA audit logs for a modern healthcare enterprise infrastructure must include more than one or all of these features given below:
- Automation: Logs must automatically register in a system when an event occurs. This can involve attempting to log into a system, keeping track of who has access to what resources, and monitoring changes to databases, files, and folders. Additionally, administrators should streamline system audits into short procedures with minimal overhead.
- Immutability: A chain of evidence can be rendered useless by hackers or data corruption related to audit logs, making reliable audit logs worthless. A natural audit log system must have a mechanism to ensure that a record is true, unaltered, and reliable.
- Robust data: Audit logs can record practically any required data, but certain data is more important than others. Important data regarding any event should be stored in a complete audit log system, including data and time stamps, event descriptions, affected systems, and any problems or warnings.
What are the Requirements for HIPAA Audit Logs?
The network of your healthcare organization should contain audit logs for all technological devices and programs. Computers, mobile devices, databases, corporate servers, and cloud applications like email and file sharing are all included in this.
Three different audit log kinds are necessary for HIPAA compliance:
- Application audit logs track all user activities on your workstations and in the cloud. Records keep track of file creation, viewing, sharing, and deletion activities.
- System-level audit logs: These monitor all activities that affect the entire system, including restarts and shutdowns, user authentication and authorization, and user access to specific data.
- User audit logs: These record all user actions, including when they access PHI and issue any operating system commands.
Moreover, covered entities and business partners must also record particular actions in the HIPAA audit trails. These consist of:
- Attempts at logging in, both successful and unsuccessful;
- Anti-virus logs;
- Any alterations made to databases that house ePHI;
- Any changes in the number of authorized personnels allowed to access ePHI data;
- Any modifications made to user access permissions by adding, deleting, or otherwise;
- User access to files, databases, or directories; and
- Attempts logged in by the firewall demonstrating attempts to enter or leave the system’s security perimeter
Additionally, organizations are required to maintain separate audit logs to track access to paper files and documents.
How Long Should You Retain HIPAA Audit Logs at Your Healthcare Organization?
The minimum retention period for all HIPAA compliance records, including audit logs, is six years. However, some states have retention guidelines that go beyond six years, and Healthcare organizations must adhere to the more stringent requirement of the two.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), logs should be kept raw for at least 6 to 12 months before being saved in compressed form.
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Establishing trust is a crucial competitive differentiator when prospecting new SaaS businesses in today’s era of data breaches and compromised privacy. Customers and partners want assurances that their organizations are doing everything possible to prevent disclosing sensitive data and putting them at risk, and compliance certification fills that need.
Akitra offers an industry-leading, AI-powered Compliance Automation platform for SaaS companies. Using automated evidence collection and continuous monitoring, together with a full suite of customizable policies and controls as a compliance foundation, our compliance automation platform and service help our customers prepare readiness for the HIPAA compliance standard, along with other security frameworks like SOC 1, SOC 2, ISO 27001, ISO 27701, ISO 27017, ISO 27018, PCI DSS, GDPR, CMMC, NIST 800-53, NIST 800-171, FedRAMP, and more such as CIS AWS Foundations Benchmark, etc. In addition, companies can use Akitra’s automated questionnaire product to streamline and expedite security questionnaire response processes delivering huge cost savings. Our compliance and security experts will provide customized guidance to navigate the end-to-end compliance process confidently.
The benefits of our solution include enormous savings in time, human resources, and cost savings, including discounted audit fees with our audit firm partners. Customers achieve compliance certification fast and cost-effectively, stay continuously compliant as they grow, and can become certified under additional frameworks using a single compliance automation platform.
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