Between October 2009 and December 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) posted almost 6,000 large-scale data breaches of healthcare organizations to its Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) “Wall of Shame,” and this staggering number doesn’t even include breaches under investigation!  

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets strict standards for safeguarding electronic protected health information (ePHI). However, as the trends above indicate, prioritizing the secure handling of sensitive patient information is quite challenging. Today, we will review best practices for HIPAA-compliant data and file transfer solutions that are crucial for any organization handling patient data. 

What is HIPAA? 

HIPAA is a United States federal law enacted in 1996 to protect the confidentiality and security of healthcare information. Its key components related to data transfer are: 

  • The Privacy Rule, which restricts the disclosure of patient health information, and 
  • The Security Rule, which mandates the implementation of administrative, physical, and technical safeguards to protect ePHI. 

What organizations must comply with HIPAA’s data security requirements? 

In addition to the typical “Covered Entities” you’d think of when you think about healthcare (care providers, insurance plans, marketplaces, etc.), any “business associates” of these industry categories must also comply with HIPAA. This means that any organization providing services to the healthcare industry or accessing ePHI for other purposes must comply with HIPAA. 


Why must file transfer be HIPAA-compliant? 

Every organization covered under HIPAA must implement secure methods for data and file transfer to prevent unauthorized access or breaches. With fines and penalties for non-compliance ranging from thousands to millions of dollars, organizations must ensure their data transfer processes meet HIPAA’s stringent requirements. To date, the largest penalty handed out for HIPAA violations was $16 million, paid by Anthem, Inc. in 2020

What are the best practices for HIPAA-compliant file transfers? 

  1. Encryption
    Encrypt data at rest and in transit using robust encryption protocols, such as AES, with a minimum key length of 128 bits. Encryption ensures that even if data is intercepted or accessed by unauthorized parties, it remains unreadable and protected. 
  2. Access Controls
    Implement strict user access controls and authentication protocols. Ensure that only authorized personnel can access or transfer sensitive patient information. 
  3. Audit Trails
    Maintain detailed audit logs of file access and transfers. Logs should include information on who accessed data, when and what changes were made. This is crucial for detecting potential security incidents and proving compliance. 
  4. Secure Communication Channels
    Use secure communication channels, such as SSL/TLS, to transmit sensitive data. Avoid insecure protocols that could lead to data interception. 
  5. Regular Risk Assessments
    Conduct regular risk assessments to identify and address potential vulnerabilities in your file transfer system. These assessments must be completed annually but should also be conducted “whenever new work methods, pieces of technology or significant upgrades to existing IT systems are introduced” (How to Perform HIPAA Risk Assessment, Netwrix). 
  6. Training and Policies
    Train employees on data security policies and best practices for handling sensitive information. At a minimum, employees should receive two trainings, one on Privacy and the other on Security, but refresher training courses are a helpful tool when creating a culture of secure data transfers. 
  7. Third-Party Management
    If third-party vendors handle your data, ensure they comply with HIPAA standards by signing Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) and having your IT security teams conduct regular audits of their practices. 
  8. Incident Response Plan
    Develop a comprehensive incident response plan for managing and mitigating potential data breaches. 

Cerberus FTP: Your HIPAA-compliant file transfer solution 

Cerberus FTP by Redwood provides secure file transfer solutions designed with HIPAA compliance in mind. Our platform offers end-to-end encryption, detailed audit trails, customizable user access controls and more to ensure your data is protected. 

Explore some of our recent blog posts and case studies on ensuring HIPAA compliance in file transfer solutions: 

Whether you’re handling patient data internally or sharing it with trusted partners, our HIPAA-compliant solutions will give you peace of mind. 

Make Cerberus FTP Server your partner in secure data transfers today by downloading your trial!