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Is Azure HIPAA Compliant?

By Brian Galura -

Is Azure HIPAA Compliant?

A recent market study revealed that Microsoft Azure is the second leader in the cloud industry. Azure holds 21% of the global market share and experienced a 50% market revenue share in the previous quarter.  

Azure is loved by many of its users because of its leading features and capabilities. However, the prospective users need to know about the compliances that this tool adheres to as certain Azure users like hospitals, doctors, data companies, and many more have to be compliant in the regular workflow to protect customers' sensitive information. 

If these users are using a cloud service provider, which is not HIPAA compliant, they are going to be in huge trouble. In this post, we’re going to explain whether or not Azure is a HIPAA-compliant tool.

Connection between Azure, Business Associate Agreement, and HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA or The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a globally recognized US healthcare regulation framework that leading healthcare service providers seek. It’s a mark of data security as it has predefined standards to use/process/disclose/store the PHI or Protected Health Information.  

The act has a vast reach and mostly applies to entities such as healthcare providers, doctors, physicians, healthcare insurance providers, healthcare device providers, and so on. The act ensures that anyone seeking PHI, including business associates, IT services, and cloud services providers, is doing it the right way. 

That was about HIPAA. Now, the next term is BAA or Business Associate Agreement. It’s the spine of the HIPPA compliance of an organization. BAA is a legal way to bind HIPPA and the concerned business/healthcare service provider to ensure that PHI (Protected Health Information) is fully protected.

BAA is necessary for HIPAA compliance because it decides whether the business associates and their subcontractors can access PHI at work. HIPAA has a very clear stance on PHI and who should enter into a BAA to protect it. As per HIPPA, entering into BAA is mandatory for entities, like -

  • Health plans providers that include individuals and organizations collecting PHI to cover the cost of medical care
  • Public and private healthcare cleaning houses that are capturing health data directly or indirectly
  • Healthcare service providers dealing with PHI for transactions related to HHS standards
  • Anyone offering healthcare services, products, and supplies to an individual or mass
  • Hybrid healthcare services like academic institutes and universities handling electronic transactions

Basically, BAA is not applicable to every HIPAA-compliant organization. But, it’s mostly necessary for HIPAA-compliant healthcare providers that are dealing with protected health information in any form.

Now, let’s talk about Azure and its takes on BAA. Microsoft promotes BAA and is willing to enter into it via a HIPAA BAA agreement that ensures data safety, reporting, and data access is in line with HITECH AT and HIPAA.

The recent terms and conditions of Microsoft BAA provide clarity on how Azure users and Microsoft access and process PHI. Once these two entities are tied with a BAA, Azure allows its customers to access, process, and store PHI. Anyone interested to enter into BAA with Azure can turn to the Online Services Terms and accessHIPAA BAA.

Does Microsoft Signing Of A BAA To Cover Healthcare Organizations Make Azure HIPAA Compliant?

Theoretically speaking, Microsoft will have no qualms in signing a BAA with healthcare service providers that are using Azure. Practically, this is not an indication or proof of Azure HIPAA compliance.

It’s crucial to understand that signing BAA with Azure does not mean that you’re fully HIPAA compliant. Despite BAA, users still have non-compliant access to PHI while using Azure. Hence, experts strongly recommend having another fully-functional compliance program to make sure that you’re using Azure in a HIPAA-compliant manner.

It’s hard for any cloud provider to be fully HIPAA compliant because it goes beyond accessing cloud platforms and applying security controls. The onus lies on the utility of the service in the real world. A HIPAA-compliant Azure service can be used in a non-compliant manner or violate HIPAA rules.

The zest of all is that Azure Cloud, alone, can’t be assured of full HIPAA compliance. It provides enough support to meet HIPAA compliance and simplifies things so much that achieving HIPAA won’t be an issue.

But, using a HIPAA-compliant tool doesn’t make the user complain. Healthcare companies and other users of Microsoft cloud services need to have adequate compliance programs to make sure that tools and other services are used according to HIPAA security rules.

Other Factors That Determine HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA is more than secured PHI access and BAA. A lot of other factors come into play to decide HIPAA compliance for an organization. Data access, integrity process, audit, and security controls that an organization uses also decides the adherence to HIPAA security rules. So, if you’re interested to know whether or not Azure is HIPAA compliant, you have to learn about these factors as well.

HIPAA wants secure access to data. Gladly, Azure comes with a feature VPN to encrypt the data. Any data that you upload or download from Azure will be fully encrypted. Hence, data storage and transmission take place in a highly secure ecosystem.

HIPAA doesn’t want unwanted access to data as this leads to more threats and vulnerabilities. With Azure, you get to enjoy Active Directory to control the access permission. To maintain data integrity, there is an inventive MFA in place.

As far as audits are concerned, Azure is not disappointing as it provides detailed logging information. Using this data, DevOps and the security team can easily find out who all have access to data for how long and for which purposes. This way, it’s easy to control PHI access and audit it.

Clearly, Azure meets and supports various HIPAA security rules. With this as a cloud service, healthcare providers, their business associates, and other services, dealing with PHI, can make their journey to HIPAA compliance a little bit smooth. But, the covered entity has to go beyond using Azure to be fully HIPAA compliant.

There is a non-negotiable use of a viable compliance program to make sure that services are configured, used, and migrated in a HIPAA-friendly manner. Any misuse of a HIPAA-friendly tool is enough to void the earned compliance.

List of Azure Services That Are HIPAA Compliant

Azure is HIPAA compliant. But, are all the services adhering to compliance? Most of them; not all the services. As you’re going to use Azure as a cloud service provider, you need to learn which services are HIPAA compliant and can be a part of BAA.

Here is the list of such services.

  • Azure and Azure Government

  • Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare 

  • Microsoft Cloud App Security

  • Microsoft Stream

  • Microsoft Healthcare Bot Service

  • Microsoft Professional Services suite that includes Premier and On Premises for Azure, Intune, and Dynamics 365. Additionally, both the business and enterprise versions of Microsoft 365 for business are also HIPAA compliant

  • Power Automate cloud service 

  • Microsoft Office 365

  • Power BI cloud service 

  • Microsoft PowerApps cloud service 

  • Azure DevOps Services

This seems like a lot of services, right? Yes, indeed! Microsoft Azure offers many HIPAA-compliant services. But, there are certain caveats. Certain services like Azure and Azure government, along with Microsoft Streams need extra attention toward compliance.

There should be well-established governance policies explaining what should be protected from which kind of threat. Having a detailed risk management framework is of great help. Protected Health Information or PHI is not possible alone with HIPAA. There should be stringent information access management rules governing the entire PHI handling.

Lastly, we would suggest using practical access controls to authenticate users and business associates that are accessing PHI.

Steps To Ensure HIPAA Compliance

Wondering how to be HIPAA compliant with Microsoft Azure? Well, the process is simple and the steps are as mentioned below.

Sign BAA with Azure

Start with signing BAA with Microsoft Azure. Make sure that all the Azure services that you’re using are defined in the agreement to avoid any further hassles. It’s wise not to access any PHI on Azure before signing BAA.

Implement policies and procedures

Carefully, define and develop the HIPAA administrative policies. Ensure that the policy clearly explains how PHI will be managed or accessed within and outside Azure.

Implement technical controls

For effective HIPAA policy implementation, enforce mandatory technical controls. Configure cloud security settings so that they align well with HIPAA technical controls.

Use Self-hosted Technical Infrastructure To Ensure Iron-clad HIPAA compliance

In recent times, self-service infrastructures have gained huge popularity across the global DevOps domain because developers enjoy the best possible flexibility with this. It’s too gratifying for a developer to have the ability to launch the cloud server immediately.

The shared access and limited reach of the public cloud are not there in the self-service ecosystem to hinder the development. Other than providing development flexibility, self-service infrastructure is great for HIPAA compliance as well.

As to why each catalog is built with a pre-compliant template. In a self-hosted ecosystem, there is a catalog of templates and each template is already HIPAA compliant. The best part about this is that it’s easy to learn about the application security configuration of multiple ecosystems by decoding the security configuration of a simple template.

HIPAA auditors love this concept of template catalog, which is a part of the self-service infrastructure because they can understand the real-time configuration scenario of the application/system under consideration by simply knowing a template.

Maintaining HIPAA compliance is also very easy with self-service infrastructure because security engineers don’t have to reinvest in template compliance each time it’s reused.

Once successfully audited for HIPAA compliance, a catalog of templates will be able to be reused without any further effort.

DevOps team plays a crucial role in making self-hosted infrastructure fully compliant with HIPAA. With advanced planning, strategic provisioning, and continuous delivery, DevOps can automate HIPAA compliance and make things better than before.

Convox Is The Best PAAS Self Hosted Infrastructure To Stay HIPAA Compliant

HIPAA compliance with Azure could be confusing for many. Hence, self–hosted infrastructure is best for HIPPA. But, to make the most of it, such cloud users need to find a way that will simplify HIPAA compliance so that those organizations have nothing to worry about.

Convox is an ideal option to consider here. This advanced cloud-agnostic PaaS platform allows the DevOps team to build and deploy the application in the cloud of their choice effectively. The platform is designed in a way that the whole development process becomes fully streamlined and the right kind of tools are just a click away.

As far as cloud compliance is concerned, Convox is doing far better than many cloud service providers, including Microsoft Azure. It is by default a secured PaaS service provider-offering facilities like RBAC and 2FA-protected software & hardware.

To meet PCI and HIPAA compliances, Convox provides self-hosted enterprise options to meet diverse needs. Convox is a gamer changer and here is why.

  • Simplified configuration

With fewer efforts, the DevOps team has the ability to set up a practical Kubernetes/ECS cluster without being tangled in scripts and templates.

  • Continuous Delivery

Developers can continue delivery as Convox permits them to deploy directly from platforms like Gitlab and Github. As you command, Convox will pull resources and deploy them directly in the development.

  • IaC

With Convox, GitOps is made easy as IaC is offered. Convox lets developers configure the ecosystem using the same YAML file without any templates and script management.

  • Zero downtime

As you deploy or migrate, Convox ensures that there is zero or nearly zero downtime with script deployment.

  • Quick rollbacks

Want to get rid of bad releases? Convox will help you to do seamless rollback for any previous faulty release over a single click.

  • Result-driven secrets management

Keep your deployment secrets protected with powerful encryption. It will keep tokens and keys fully protected.

  • Audit trails

Keep a watch over all your deployments, commands, and configurations and audit them quickly. Convox provides a centralized overview of the logged data of the deployment and makes the entire audit process seamless.

Staying HIPAA compliant is easy with Convox and the above pointers prove it well. Try that platform today and enjoy streamlined and secured access to PHI.