Briggs Stratton Corporation, a manufacturer of lawnmower engines, has recently reported that they have experienced a breach of PHI, resulting from a malware attack.
It is not obvious that the company is a HIPAA covered entity; the firm does not work in the healthcare industry and does not act as a business associate to provide services to healthcare organisations. However, as the company stored employee healthcare information, it too must follow the rules of HIPAA compliance.
Briggs Stratton was required to comply with HIPAA Rules due to its self-insured group health plan. Employers and health plan sponsors are required to ensure that HIPAA policies are put in place for their group health plans. Furthermore, they are required to ensure that any ePHI created, accessed, stored, or transmitted is safeguarded to the standards required by the HIPAA Security Rule and all HIPAA Rules are followed. That includes entering business associate agreements with any entity that has access to the ePHI of its employees, is provided with ePHI, or has access to systems containing ePHI.
When the company experienced a potential breach of employee information, the incident was a reportable security breach. In accordance with the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule, the OCR required notification, and notification letters had to be issued to its employees about the possible malicious use of their PHI.
The breach at Briggs Stratton, was discovered on July 25, 2017 when malware was identified on its systems. This gave unauthorized individuals the potential to access to the system where ePHI was stored. Based on the dates of installation of the malware, access to the system was possible between July 25 and July 28, 2017. As soon as they identified the risk, the company took steps to contain the attack. Notifications were delayed until September 30, 2017 due to law enforcement launching their own investigation into the malware attack.
The breach impacted 12,789 of its employees and potentially resulted in the exposure of names, addresses, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, health plan IDs, insurance information, passport numbers, work-related evaluations, and login details to its work systems.
Investigators have yet to find evidence of misuse of any health plan data, although employees impacted by the breach have been offered credit monitoring and identity theft protection services for 12 months without charge as compensation. Steps have also been taken to improve security to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, such as upgrading their malware defence systems.
The incident serves as a reminder that not all HIPAA covered entities fall under the standard classification of healthcare providers, health plans or business associates, and even firms not involved in healthcare may still be required to comply with HIPAA Rules and can face penalties for non-compliance with HIPAA Rules.
Many companies, such as Briggs Stratton, are aware of their responsibilities to protect PHI, and had implemented a HIPAA compliance program. Furthermore, they acted accordingly when a potential data breach occurred. However, there are many companies which may accidentally be in violation of HIPAA due to a lack of understanding of their responsibilities regarding the protection of employee PHI.