No Longer A Healthcare Security Problem: Safely Sending Emails

Updated on November 27, 2023
smart phone or computer

Nothing is more important in healthcare than protecting sensitive information for a practice and its patients. Threats come from every direction, whether through email, an attachment, a malicious link or simply the penetration of a security system.

Solutions are aplenty but with various degrees of effectiveness and durability, not to mention complexity and quality of protection for the practice, all are important factors when measuring benefits versus risk. As healthcare practice leaders attempt to mitigate their continuous onslaughts of threats, possible breaches, and potential bad actors, automating security measures can alleviate trouble, distractions, and chaos caused by a breach or other malicious activity. 

While most in healthcare don’t like to discuss the ugly but open secret, email is a significant factor in many data breaches. Therefore, advanced levels of protection for Outlook and other email servers are essential, and add-on solutions solve the problem of misaddressed emails and prevent data leakage.

Tackling this challenge in the healthcare sector is undeniably tough. To enhance the existing security measures, it’s pivotal to incorporate robust email authentication protocols like DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) into the strategy, which ensures a comprehensive assessment through DMARC reports.

By automating data protection and covering email servers with a safe send solution, medical practices can build their data loss prevention (DLP) rules to define what it receives and how it processes sensitive information in need of quarantine and investigation. Technology that scans for sensitive keywords, personally identifiable information (PII) or data patterns inside the email body or attachments can provide practices with a critical layer of security.  

Confirm External Recipients and Attachments

Using safe send solutions, the user can confirm the practice’s external recipients (those receiving a message from the practice) before a message ever gets sent. Such an integrated solution “asks” whether everyone on an email recipient list should be seeing the sensitive information contained so the message is not sent to someone by mistake. Likewise, this prevents misaddressed emails or inadvertent auto-fill email mistakes.

Email breaches that often result from accidental data loss can result in fines, regulatory non-compliance notices, and even litigation for a medical practice. Additionally, medical practices can (and should) seek solutions that proactively help users to prevent accidental data loss and keeps all sensitive information from leaving the organization — all data remains on the practice’s network.

In all such environments, all settings should be configurable and specified on a per-user or per-group basis. Subsequently, medical practices should automate activity logs for all potential DLP occurrences with a complete audit trail stored locally or centrally and supporting Outlook local languages as these are often needed should you be audited.  

Finally, through such automation, the medical practice can provide DLP functionality that scans all outgoing emails simultaneously to reduce the risk of a sensitive data leak.

Benefits that matter

Such automation can catch a user sending email to someone pretending to be a company’s CEO or other officials, for example, this is commonly known as ‘spear phishing’. When a user replies to a spear phishing email, a response can generate a confirmation highlighting the external incorrect email address, but there are other, more nuanced, benefits that are of the highest importance to medical practice leaders.

Email encryption integration

Safe send solutions allow organizations to use their current native encryption solutions ensuring users follow best company practices.

GDPR compliant

Align the practice with GDPR Article 32 2 “to implement appropriate technical and organizational measures together with a process for regularly testing, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of those measures to ensure the security of processing.”

Microsoft integration

Integrating seamlessly with the Microsoft Rights Management System (RMS), safe send technology automatically scans encrypted RMS files through the add-on without any additional set-up or configuration required.

Such security solutions are triggered under various conditions, the most common of which is for all external emails going outside the practice. It can also display it only when files are sent externally and can also be configured to trigger only when there is a DLP match in an external email.

Zero tolerance for compromise

There is zero tolerance for compromise. Email security breaches can allow hackers to access sensitive patient information affecting thousands of records and the whole health of the practice. This is an exceedingly difficult challenge to tackle throughout healthcare. 

While each security ingredient addressed herein is vital to the health and safety of data that lives in and is generated by a medical practice, the primary goal for any medical practice is prevention, defense, and remediation of breach, hack, or attack. However, practice leaders also must be able to define and segregate problems and issues when they arise and determine how best to respond once a breach or issue is identified. These are salient points, easily addressable through safe send email automation.

Such solutions also create audit trails to adjudicate problems and prepare against them in the future. 

Ultimately, the goal of automation and adding levels of security to email systems creates a safer environment for the processing of information generated by a medical practice. Therefore, practice leaders must ensure that confidential information stays safe, mistakes are eliminated, and safely sending sensitive information to the wrong recipient is reduced or eliminated, and ensure the correct information only goes to the intended recipient.

Oliver Paterson
Oliver Paterson

Oliver Paterson is Director Product Management for VIPRE Security Group.