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Windows 7 End-of-Life (EOL): How to Maintain HIPAA Compliance

You may soon be facing a HIPAA compliance headache on the workstations in your healthcare facility. Microsoft support for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 ends on January 14, 2020. No more security patches will be issued after that date. This puts those operating systems at odds with the HIPAA administrative safeguards, which include the specification for “protection from malicious software,” specifically “procedures for guarding against, detecting, and reporting malicious software.”


The end of support means that workstations running those operating systems will be unpatched against new exploits, leaving them highly vulnerable, and therefore, out of HIPAA compliance.



If you are still running those older operating systems, you’re not alone. Many companies still have Windows 2008 servers and Windows 7 workstations in their environments. While these operating systems are ten years old and newer systems are certainly better, organizations keep using them. They are very stable and continue to do their jobs well. But the longer you hang onto them, the greater the risk to your organization.

First, let’s talk about the risks, and then how to alleviate them without having to purchase all-new systems at once.


Lessons from Past Compliance Audits

After a data breach occurs, history shows that regulators conduct a thorough audit of the affected organization’s entire environment. They look at everything. Although the breach was caused by an employee walking out with a thumb drive that was lost or stolen, every other instance of non-compliance that the auditors uncover is subject to a fine, even if it had nothing to do with the breach. Organizations that have been found using Windows products that were past their end-of-life — such as Windows XP — have been fined for that in the past. Undoubtedly, Windows 7 and Server 2008 will be no exception.


Considering the Alternatives

Under the language of the HIPAA rule, specifications are listed as either required or addressable. “Protection from malicious software” is an addressable specification. That gives organizations a bit of wiggle room. Complying with an addressable specification involves evaluating the risk, considering the measures to mitigate it, coming up with a reasonable alternative that is equivalent, and documenting it. (That’s the short version; here’s the official source on how to meet an addressable specification.)


Let’s say you find it impossible or at least extremely cost-prohibitive to replace all of your out-of-compliance operating systems by January 14. You could address the HIPAA specification by updating a set number of systems every month between now and the end of 2020, until all have been updated. In the meantime, you implement an Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) monitoring system to keep an eye on the unpatchable systems, as well as use encryption on the systems that hold personal health information (PHI).


Hopefully, you have already performed this sort of analysis across all of the HIPAA specifications as part of your overall compliance effort. HIPAA requires you to perform a risk analysis, have a risk management plan, and document them both. Those are the first documents an examiner will want to see.



At FIT Solutions, we can advise you on all of the aspects of IT that impact your ability to comply with HIPAA. That includes helping you with your risk management and risk assessment plans and documentation, as well as assisting with your Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 end-of-life planning.


Call us today at 888-339-5694.

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© 2020 by FIT Solutions. IT Consulting, Cloud Hosting, Cybersecurity, and Managed IT Services

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