A Guide to Jira HIPAA Compliance and Mitigating Risk Factors

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Safeguarding an individual's Protected Health Information (PHI) is more important than ever before.

As cybercriminals look for more sophisticated ways to exploit sensitive data, companies need to be more sophisticated in protecting sensitive data.

One area companies need to focus on is HIPAA compliance in Jira and therefore ensuring the best Jira security practices are employed.

Due to today's more highly regulated industries, healthcare organizations and companies are needing to implement greater security measures to protect patient information from leaking.

As a result, legal regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) have been enacted to better protect patient privacy and security. 

In this post, I'll cover the scope and purpose of HIPAA for protecting patient information, how it connects to Jira, risk factors, and best practices for organizations to ensure they are HIPAA compliant. 

Scope and Purpose of HIPAA Compliance

To consumers, HIPAA has proven to be a pivotal piece of legislation that has transformed the process of which healthcare information is secured and managed within the United States. Enacted in 1996 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), HIPAA was established to improve consumer regulations concerning the privacy and security for certain protected health information (PHI).

The goal behind HIPAA is that it establishes national standards to safeguard sensitive patient health data from being disclosed without the patient's consent or knowledge. For example, each time a person visits a healthcare practitioner, the regulation safeguards patients from having their private health data shared outside of the healthcare organizations and companies they visit and conduct business with.

How Jira Connects to HIPAA Compliance

As new technologies have grown within the healthcare industry, lawmakers have worked to ensure that patient confidentiality spans beyond just in-person facilities. Many healthcare organizations are now required to adhere to a variety of electronic patient data regulations along with the privacy and security provisions of HIPAA. This has been prompted due to the increase in the amount and variety of cyberattacks targeting healthcare facilities.

These issues can also be related to the use of secrets stored in third-party software tools used within healthcare organizations such as Jira. Threat actors can attack these organizations through various attack methods including with ransomware that encrypts files, devices, and PHI stored in them for ransom.

The growing challenge for dev teams is that secrets, such as access keys and passwords, can be stored in plain text formats within Jira. In turn this can allow cyberattackers to have more visible access to your secrets, including consumer personally identifiable information (PII) and PHI for healthcare organizations. This can also be the case if attackers have direct access to your Jira environment.

Many organizations and companies that provide health and information services to individuals could face multiple fines and penalties if sensitive patient data is leaked. This can result in violations of consumer privacy regulations such as HIPAA on a federal level and possible state laws that protect consumer data, laws such as the VCDPA

HIPAA Compliance for Jira: Shared Responsibilities and Key Risk Factors

Many protected healthcare organizations that fall under HIPAA have faced several key risk factors when utilizing the software in regard to the regulation. A lot of these risks surround how healthcare organizations that utilize Jira ensure that the data stored within the environment is secured.

Additionally, Atlassian states that although several of their Jira product lines are HIPAA compliant, maintaining that compliance is a shared responsibility between their company and the healthcare providers they serve. Below are several other key risk factors that healthcare organizations should consider regarding their compliance needs surrounding HIPAA.

1. Data storage and transfer of PHI

Storing protected health data and storing it with your Jira environment can create several security risks to organizations. An exploit from 2021 can allow for malicious actors to remote into the environment and escalate the user privileges in order to execute arbitrary code via a Remote Code Execution (RCE) vulnerability in the email templates feature of Jira.

Exploits like these can allow for attackers to have unauthorized access to PII and PHI while also allowing them to exfiltrate that data outside of the Jira instance. This data can then be used to extort money from the organization, It can possibly be sold on the dark web or other illicit data marketplaces. These risks can result in fines and penalties for organizations found to be in violation of HIPAA regulations regarding PHI.

2. User access controls

Jira's compliance features heavily depend on how administrators configure user access controls and environment settings. Incorrect user configurations and insecure access controls can cause vulnerabilities. Admins that ensure roles are defined as necessary and user permissions are determined based on data classification and verification processes.

Similar to the issues with data storage and transfer for PHI, healthcare organizations should implement stricter access controls within their systems and Jira environments. By doing this it can reduce risks with unauthorized access to this tool as well as mitigate the potential of attacks that can derive from privilege escalation. 

3. Third party integrations and management

When healthcare organizations integrate Jira with other tools or systems, there's a risk of creating security gaps in compliance. This is especially true if these third party integrations do not have equivalent security measures in place. Third party integrations can also force organizations to assess their shared responsibility for securing information within their Jira environment.

It's imperative to conduct a risk assessment when implementing any new tools within the organization's systems and the Jira environment. This ensures that if any data breaches or exfiltration occurs, there is a trail to close the security gap and mitigate further incidents. 

4. Insufficient security monitoring and reporting

Jira provides audit trails within the platform. However, it may not be as extensive enough for certain compliance needs regarding HIPAA. These trails may not capture all types of user activities or system configuration changes, which are critical for thorough security analysis.

Insufficiently monitored Jira environments may also lack the advanced features such as threat detection, anomaly detection, or automated alerts to possible security risks while delaying the response time to an incident. Additionally, companies can leverage a secret scanning tool, such as Security for Jira, to ensure organizations held to HIPAA compliance requirements aren't storing secrets in their Jira Data Center instance.

Best Practices for Maintaining Jira HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA Compliance requirements for healthcare organizations can have steep consequences in the event of data leaks. Refraining from storing secrets that include PII and PHI within the Jira is often the best line of defense in ensuring patient data is protected effectively. In addition to not storing secrets in Jira, companies that fall under HIPAA regulation should also implement the following best practices.

1. Sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) for Jira

The business associate agreement (BAA) document defines the terms and conditions to make sure protected health information is adequately safeguarded. Under HIPAA regulations, Atlassian is designated as a business associate of the organization using Jira. Atlassian requires organizations to have a BBA in effect before any PHI can be imported to the environment.

2. Implement stricter Jira access controls

Along with any other system accesses and other third-party integrations, admins within the Jira should enlist strict access controls to data stored in Jira. All users of the environment should be given a user access designation that is focused on a need to know basis based on the user within the instance.

Organizations can also enlist more authentication protocols for users to access the Jira environment. This will help minimize unauthorized access attempts to reduce the likelihood of privilege escalation risks that can derive from too much data access granted to users within the program.

3. Enlist the support of configuring Jira for HIPAA compliance

Jira currently does not have a defined process for maintaining HIPAA compliance within Jira Data Center. However, the Jira environment can be configured by admins to ensure PII and PHI is not stored or shared in plain text where it can be exploited by attackers. This process can include identifying and tagging all PHI fields within Jira projects allowing for targeted encryption and access control measures.

4. Conduct regular compliance and system audits

Jira currently has no built-in capability to detect content containing sensitive information that could be exploited by an attacker. Standard workflows can make protecting this data a simple oversight, even for well-intentioned users. In turn, this can lead to costly fines, penalties, business reputational damage, and even operational disruptions for healthcare organizations.

Enlisting additional tools to prevent secrets from being leaked if accidentally stored in Jira can help reduce these risks. As required by the HIPAA security rule, organizations should conduct ongoing compliance audits to ensure that systems and third-party tools are meeting the necessary security controls as maintained by these requirements. 

5. Update systems and software with latest releases

There are numerous CVE’s that are being discovered frequently. This is where healthcare organizations and other companies that are required to follow HIPAA compliance requirements must make certain that they keep their systems and software applications they use regularly up to date with the latest releases.

Keeping systems patched and software up to day with the latest release is on our list of Jira security best practices. Ensuring that the organization is taking the time to update and patch vulnerabilities can help mitigate cyberattacks that can in turn result in a security breach impacting patient data and confidentiality. 

Utilizing Security for Jira to Protect PHI

Heavily regulated industries like healthcare require more security in order to protect patient data successfully. This is where Soteri can support your teams to ensure that secrets are not published in your Jira instance. By deploying Security for Jira, this will allow teams to:

  • Identify sensitive data stored in Jira before attackers can exploit it.
  • Protect consumer PII, PHI, financial information, and more from being leaked.
  • Support organizations needing to remain GDPR and HIPAA compliant.
  • Prompt teams to approach securing sensitive data protectively versus reactively. 

Within Jira instances, where secrets stored can be at risk, Security for Jira can be customized to scan for possible data leaks. This secret scanner can audit projects, bugs, comments, and issue history for any confidential data. It is done by scanning common API keys and confidential information along with the ability to add your own scanning rules for data specific to your organization.

Soteri is committed to support better Jira security for the healthcare industry.

View our Jira secret scanner