Your Photocopier May Be a Security Risk

Don’t let this happen to you!

Under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Affinity Health Plan had to pay more than $1.2 million dollars for a breach of protected health information (PHI). The PHI was stored on the hard drives of photocopiers Affinity turned back over to leasing agents. CBS Evening News bought one of the photocopiers containing confidential medical information, and informed Affinity.

Affinity filed a breach report with the HHS Office for Civil Rights, as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, estimating that up to 344,579 people may have been affected. The HHS investigation revealed that Affinity had failed to include photocopiers in its HIPAA-required risk analysis or in its policies and procedures.

If you have a digital copier in your office, remember that it’s a computer with a hard drive and storage media. As with any computer, simply deleting files doesn’t make them go away. Instead, deleting frees up storage space by allowing the computer to overwrite those files with new data. Until they are overwritten, the files are retrievable.

Federal Trade Commission guidelines recommend:

  • Add photocopier management to your HIPAA security policies before you acquire a copier.
  • When you buy or lease one, evaluate your options for securing data on the device. For example, some copiers offer encryption that scrambles data or a feature that lets you overwrite data after every job run.
  • When you use the copier, take advantage of all its security features. If the copier is connected to a network, make sure it is securely integrated.
  • When you are ready to sell or return the copier, check with the manufacturer, dealer, or servicing company for options on securing the hard drive.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has a paper that gives hard drive storage sanitization instructions (see Table A-1) for many types of office machines and devices, including photocopiers, and even smartphones. 

Visit the TMA HIPAA Resource Center to find tools, information, education, and consulting to help become HIPAA security-compliant. 

If you have questions, contact the TMA Knowledge Center at (800) 880-7955 or knowledge[at]texmed[dot]org.


TMA Practice E-Tips main page

Last Updated On

August 07, 2023

Originally Published On

September 12, 2013

Related Content