Windows Server 2003 Will Soon be a Breach of HIPAA Compliance

Microsoft has revealed it will be stopping ceasing patches and software updates for Windows Server 2003 on July 15, 2015. Any HIPAA-covered body that is still running the defunct software on any of its servers after this date will be in violation of the HIPAA Security Rule, and could face a fine from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Microsoft advises users to run the upgrade to Windows Server 2012 R2 in order to maintain security standards and receive continued support, maintenance, upgrades and patches.

When Microsoft ceased issuing patches for Windows XP, all users had to be transferred onto new operating systems; a task that required a large amount of planning, a considerable number of man hours and a significant financial outlay. While a HIPAA-covered body will have fewer servers than desktops/laptops, upgrading servers has potential to cause even more disruption, especially in large groups operating a number of servers and an even higher number of virtual servers.

Server upgrades need the equipment to be taken out of action for a duration of time, data needs to be moved and access to data cannot be denied during this. With less than a month left to make the change, any organization that has yet to make the change must do so now. Time is fast expiring.

Once Microsoft stop supporting on Windows Server 2003 and stops issuing security updates and patches the platform will be considered defunct. Hackers will be able to access system and exploit security loopholes. Without patches of servers, any PHI stored on computer networks accessible through that server will be vulnerable. This would be a breach of 45 CFR §164.308 (a) (1) (i)/(ii) of the Security Rule.

A failure to update software could be deemed willful neglect of HIPAA Rules. That brings a fine of up to $1.5 million, per year that the software was still not patched.

The OCR is not averse to issuing fines to HIPAA-covered bodies that fail to install software patches and upgrades. Last year the agency fined Anchorage Community Mental Health Services $150,000 for a data violation that exposed the PHI of 2,700 individuals.

The resolution agreement stated that the penalty was applied for “failing to implement technical security measures to guard against unauthorized access to e-PHI” and for not making sure that “information technology resources were both supported and regularly updated with available patches.”