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The Cybersecurity Risks of Mergers and Acquisitions

Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

In tough economic times, many businesses go through mergers and acquisitions to improve their financial prospects. However, this process can put organizations’ sensitive data at risk. In this article, we discuss the cybersecurity risks of mergers and acquisitions. According to a report by Forescout, 62 percent of participants agreed that their company faces significant cybersecurity risks by acquiring new companies and expressed that cyber risk is their biggest concern post-acquisition.

cybersecurity risks of mergers and acquisitions

Before M&A: Assess Cybersecurity Risk

Even before mergers and acquisitions are announced, it can be a vulnerable time for a company’s data. Leakage of sensitive company data, like confidential financial information, can be catastrophic to negotiations. As a result, this makes companies considering a merger or acquisition highly susceptible to hacking.

Internal threats are also likely to increase. Employees not involved in negotiations may learn about merger talks and have some incentive to leak data to the press or to criminals to stop the process. It is essential to protect all communications relating to merger discussions.

The most significant risk of a merger is not doing cyber due diligence on the company being acquired. Risk analysis needs to be a part of negotiation talks. Most organizations being merged or acquired are smaller, with low levels of sophistication, and may lack mature cybersecurity programs. You need to understand the potential risks your company may be inheriting to prepare to address them properly. Security personnel need to be included in M&A talks to ask the right questions, audit systems, and prepare for integration.

Addressing Risk During Integration

Once a company merges with another, the risks to sensitive data increase. Highly sophisticated threat actors target M&A activities because, with operations in transition, high-value data is often vulnerable. 

The Technology Risks of Mergers and Acquisitions

In 2019, the IBM Institute for Business Value surveyed 720 executives responsible for the merger and acquisition functions at acquirer organizations. More than one in three said they experienced data breaches that can be attributed to M&A activity during integration.

IT changes may be extensive and cannot all take place at once. It’s essential to take time to fully understand inherited policies, equipment, and procedures before making rapid changes. Enterprise IT projects take time to plan and complete without disrupting day-to-day operations.

IT teams will deal with a new mix of assets, technologies, processes, and organizational culture during integration. Risks continue to evolve during the initial period of change as they learn more about inherited systems and processes. They may also be overwhelmed by integration tasks integral to day-to-day operations, so that security tasks may be a lower priority. It’s incredibly important to prioritize security and have a well-organized transition to ensure that sensitive data is not exposed.

The Personnel Risks of Mergers and Acquisitions

Changing personnel can also create gaps in your security program. Employees with institutional knowledge may leave the company, meaning crucial processes and procedures must be re-documented and updated. If teams are understaffed in essential areas, they may take shortcuts that leave sensitive data exposed.

Staff burnout and uncertainty from the transition can also lead employees to make mistakes. Phishing and business email compromise threats are prevalent in the early days of a merger or acquisition. People may report to new managers and fall prey to social engineering-style attacks because of their unfamiliarity with new reporting lines and company hierarchy.

It’s important to prioritize security training and update all employees on policies after a merger occurs. Clearing up ambiguity helps to reduce risk and builds trust in the organization.

How to Reduce Cybersecurity Risk During a Merger or Acquisition

Utilizing basic email security features like filtering and message encryption can go a long way to protect sensitive data and limit risks. Whenever confidential information is shared, it should occur through secure or encrypted channels. Leaked information can lead to negative consequences and volatility.

The best way to reduce risk is to plan for it. It’s critical to thoroughly understand the risks you will inherit by merging with or acquiring another company. This should include thoroughly reviewing risk assessments and IT systems and even bringing in a third-party to assess their cybersecurity. The time to find out about these liabilities is before the merger occurs, not on day one. 

Infographic: Most Email Software Cannot Use PHI

Thursday, January 12th, 2023

Email Communication is Necessary- But Introduces Risk

When it comes to receiving communications from businesses, 93% of people say that email is their preferred communication channel. In the healthcare industry, organizations must take extra care to comply with HIPAA. Only some email marketing platforms can adequately protect PHI. If not properly secured, email can introduce significant risks to sensitive data. 72% of organizations report experiencing an email cyberattack.

As the definition of PHI is ever-expanding to include information like biomarkers, organizations need to adopt a more secure posture for their personal, transactional, and marketing email. Cybercriminals seek out personal data because it is highly valued on the dark web. Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and policies preventing users from sending PHI insecurely are not enough.

Humans are prone to error and often make mistakes classifying PHI. Even DLP technology is not infallible- keywords can be misspelled, and PHI only sometimes fits cleanly into pre-determined filters. 40% of threats stem from internal actors. Many are not malicious, just mistakes! You must account for errors when humans are part of your security program.

So how can you prevent data leakage and ensure the security of sensitive data at rest and in transit? It’s simple when you choose the right solution. Resolve the tension between security risk and business engagement objectives by choosing a fully compliant email marketing solution.

infographic email phi(Click to Expand)

Two Requirements for Including PHI in Marketing Emails

Secure Application

HIPAA does not require at-rest encryption, though it is recommended to decrease risk and potential liability. When using email marketing platforms or customer relationship management systems that contain PHI, it’s essential to keep that information protected. You must ensure that all collected and stored protected health information is encrypted and can only be accessed and decrypted by people with the appropriate keys. This makes backups secure, protects data from being improperly accessed, and generally protects the data no matter what happens (unless the keys are stolen). Encryption is essential to protect private health data at rest in an application.

Transmission Encryption

If protected health information is transmitted outside of the database or application, encryption must also be used to protect the data in transmission. At a minimum, TLS encryption (with the appropriate ciphers) is secure enough to meet HIPAA guidelines. However, TLS alone may not be appropriate for your use cases. Non-compliant and quasi-compliant applications do not offer transmission encryption that is secure enough to comply with HIPAA. You should only send communications containing PHI if they are encrypted.

Types of Email Marketing Solutions

Non Compliant (1)

Many of the most popular email solutions on the market were not designed to protect the sensitive data of the healthcare industry. These vendors will not sign Business Associate Agreements and do not provide the storage or transmission encryption needed to meet HIPAA requirements. Healthcare organizations should only use these solutions if they do not send PHI- which may be impossible if you plan to email lists of patients with any information about their healthcare. 

Quasi Compliant (2)

HIPAA does not require any specific technology to meet its requirements, which allows for flexibility, but also creates uncertainty. No central government organization certifies HIPAA compliance, and as a result, many organizations advertise themselves as “HIPAA-compliant” but don’t enable you to take full advantage of their functionality. We call this “Quasi compliance.”

Quasi-compliant solutions often provide a secure application and protect patient data at rest. However, they will not permit you to send emails or transmit PHI outside the database. This can seriously limit the usefulness of the solution. Take a real-life example: one healthcare organization purchased a CRM system and set it up, uploaded their contacts, and was ready to start using it, so they enabled the “HIPAA Compliance” toggle on the backend. They quickly found that much of the functionality was no longer available and wouldn’t allow them to email or log certain data types. The solution was almost useless for their patient engagement efforts.

Other applications will permit you to use the full functionality of the solution, but when you read the terms of the Business Associate Agreement, it is clear that you are not allowed to send PHI. If signed, your organization will be responsible for any breaches caused by sending PHI insecurely, not the vendor.

Full Compliance (4)

This is why it’s crucial to vet solutions carefully and not take shortcuts regarding HIPAA compliance. Any CRM, CDP, or email marketing solution must protect data at rest in a secure application and encrypt transmitted messages. Even more importantly, it shouldn’t take any extra training or require any extra steps to use in a compliant way.

At LuxSci, (3) we provide a secure application to manage your email campaigns that encrypts transmitted messages automatically. Our Secure Marketer solution is designed to meet the unique security needs of healthcare organizations. All email transmissions are encrypted automatically, and users can choose the right type of encryption (TLS, Portal Pickup) to meet their email use cases. Automatic encryption gives your security and compliance teams peace of mind that all messages are sent securely. Data is protected throughout the lifecycle and does not require employees to decide whether a message contains PHI. Healthcare marketers can fully use PHI to personalize and customize messaging to increase patient engagement and get better ROI on their marketing campaigns. 

Healthcare Marketing & HIPAA: Are you in Compliance?

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022

Healthcare Marketing Today

Marketing is essential to growing any business successfully, but when you work in regulated spaces such as healthcare, there are compliance considerations. Whether responding to an online patient review or trying to increase patient engagement through marketing campaigns, misunderstandings in marketing best practices can lead to patient privacy breaches.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which controls what and when patient information may be shared for marketing purposes, was enacted before the electronic age. As a result, it can be challenging to find information regarding appropriate marketing practices using modern social and software technologies.

HIPAA and Healthcare Marketing

A large part of HIPAA regulates what is appropriate for the use or disclosure of patient information. There are certain instances where the use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI) is allowed without patient consent. These instances include sharing PHI for treatment, payment, or healthcare operations.

However, before you can use patient information for marketing efforts, you need to receive explicit written consent from the patient. The consent form must be specific to the marketing efforts you will use the patient’s PHI in. For instance, if you would like to share patient testimonials, photos, or videos on your website or social media accounts, the patient must sign a consent form stating that you will use their information in this way.

HIPAA-compliant marketing also largely depends on an employee’s understanding of the law. Employees responsible for handling PHI must be trained to use and disclose PHI within the scope of their job role. Improperly trained employees can expose your practice to HIPAA violations and costly fines.

examples of healthcare marketing breaches

8 Common Misunderstandings of Marketing and HIPAA

1. As long as patient consent is obtained, HIPAA doesn’t matter
Some organizations think they can use any marketing tool with a signed patient consent form. Still, the tool has to be HIPAA-compliant. Even if patients agree, it does not remove the organization’s obligations to secure PHI under the law. If protected health information is improperly accessed, it is still a breach and can lead to severe financial and reputational consequences.

2. Marketing emails do not need encryption
Many marketing emails imply a relationship between patients and providers and, as such, can often be classified as protected health information. PHI must be encrypted in transit and at rest to comply with HIPAA.

3. Personalizing marketing emails is a HIPAA violation
Marketing emails can be personalized as long as the proper safeguards and precautions are in place to protect patient privacy and meet compliance requirements.

4. Marketing companies do not need to sign Business Associates Agreements
As of 2013, the HIPAA Omnibus rule expanded HIPAA obligations to include business associates and subcontractors. Marketing agencies and vendors that process PHI on behalf of a covered entity must comply with HIPAA regulations, which include signing a BAA.

5. The only way to protect PHI is to use patient portals
TLS encryption meets HIPAA transport encryption requirements and provides a better user experience. Marketing emails sent with TLS encryption are more likely to be opened than those sent to a patient portal.

6. Using BCC is enough to keep patient identities private
BCC is NOT enough to protect patient identities. Although the end recipient cannot tell who else received the message, the entire list is visible as the messages are transmitted from server to server. The messages can be eavesdropped on by someone with technical abilities.

7. Always respond to social media reviews
Be extremely careful when responding to online reviews. Publicly confirming information about a patient’s health or treatment status is a HIPAA violation.

8. Healthcare marketing isn’t necessary or worth the hassle
Healthcare consumerism is rising, and patients are willing to change providers if they are unsatisfied with their experience. Educating and informing current and potential patients about your services is essential to improve new customer acquisition and retention.

How to be HIPAA-Compliant

The most crucial step is vetting marketing vendors and HIPAA compliance tools. Any vendor that handles PHI on behalf of a healthcare entity needs to sign a Business Associate Agreement that outlines how patient data will be stored, transmitted, and disposed of. Don’t choose a vendor who is unfamiliar with HIPAA’s stringent requirements. Also, watch out for quasi-compliance. Some self-identified “HIPAA-compliant” vendors can protect data at rest but not in transmission or require patient waivers to achieve compliance.

Next, always use encryption and default to security. Identifying PHI is often tricky, and the legal burden should not fall on the marketing team. By selecting technology that encrypts every marketing email, you can rest assured that messages are secure and compliant. A bonus tip- do not send marketing messages to an encrypted patient portal. Instead, send marketing messages with TLS encryption directly to patients’ inboxes. You will see much higher response rates and engagement.

Finally, to create the most effective marketing campaigns, use PHI to create segmented audiences and send them personalized content. These tactics are widely used outside the healthcare industry because they deliver results. *Remember that any tool you put PHI into must be HIPAA-compliant.

How LuxSci and Compliancy Group Can Help

LuxSci’s Secure Marketing tool is an email marketing platform designed to meet HIPAA requirements. It allows marketing teams to segment audiences and personalizes emails to engage patients and improve marketing ROI. If you are already using a third-party email marketing platform, no worries, we got you covered. LuxSci’s Secure High Volume Email solution can integrate with any third-party platform to make sure those emails are also HIPAA-compliant.

Compliancy Group enables healthcare organizations and vendors serving the healthcare industry to achieve HIPAA compliance through an automated software platform and live guided coaching. The Guard, its proprietary compliance platform, covers all the necessary parts of the HIPAA regulation. Compliancy Group awards clients the HIPAA Seal of Compliance upon successful completion of their process. The Seal can be displayed on a practice’s website, email signature, and signage, and proves they are dedicated to protecting patient information and have completed the steps required to satisfy the law.

email CTA

New Feature: Secure Email Tagline

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

LuxSci is introducing a new email tagline feature to inform recipients that email messages are secured. This helps build trust and increase confidence with less tech-savvy recipients who do not understand how email encryption works.

secure email tagline

TLS Encryption

TLS encryption is now widely supported by the most popular email providers. As a result, more organizations are choosing to send emails containing sensitive data with TLS encryption. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. TLS encryption is permitted under HIPAA and most compliance regulations.
  2. It’s easier to use and does not require recipients to log in to portals to access their messages.
  3. The open and response rates are higher on TLS encrypted messages.

However, using only TLS to encrypt emails can be confusing to the laypeople receiving them. While it’s easy to use and “invisible,” that can be concerning when transmitting sensitive information. If it looks like a regular email, recipients may be concerned that the organization does not care about the security of their personal information. This perception can negatively impact the business and dissuade people from using digital channels.

Introducing a New Email Tagline

For these reasons, all Email Hosting, Secure Connector, Secure High Volume Email, and Secure Marketing customers who send emails encrypted via SecureLine will have a small tagline at the bottom of the email that indicates the message is secure. It looks like this:

message secured by LuxSci tagline

This tagline builds trust and lets the recipient know that the company has taken steps to secure sensitive data. If you are an existing customer, visit your email settings or contact Customer Support to enable this feature. New customers will automatically have the tagline enabled when sending SecureLine encrypted emails.

Does TLS Email Encryption Meet Compliance Requirements?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022

In this article, we discuss what types of email encryption are sufficient to comply with government regulations. TLS encryption is a good option for many organizations dealing with sensitive data and legal requirements. However, TLS does not protect data at rest. Each organization must undertake their own risk assessment to determine which encryption methods are suitable to fulfill legal requirements.

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