Health Information Management

HIPAA Q&A: You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers!

HIM-HIPAA Insider, December 21, 2015

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Submit your HIPAA questions to Associate Editor Nicole Votta at and we will work with our experts to provide you with the information you need.

Q: When you refer to a laptop being encrypted for security reasons, is that the same as password protected? We have a number of employees with laptops who transport them from work to home and are concerned about a breach if a laptop is stolen.

A: Laptop encryption is not the same as password protection. Encryption is applying a mathematical algorithm to the data stored on the laptop, making it unreadable and inaccessible to someone without the encryption key or associated password. This means if someone stole the laptop, the contents of the hard drive could not be accessed even if the hard drive is removed from the laptop and installed into another laptop. Passwords do not make the information stored on the hard drive unreadable.

When it comes to breaches of unsecure PHI, if you only protect laptops with a password and the laptop is lost or stolen, it would be considered a breach of unsecure PHI. However, if the hard drive was encrypted at the level included in the guidelines from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the laptop was lost or stolen, it would not be considered a breach of unsecure PHI—it would meet the safe harbor standard noted in the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule.

Editor’s note: Chris Apgar, CISSP, president of Apgar & Associates, LLC, in Portland, Oregon, answered this question for HCPro’s Briefings on HIPAA newsletter. This information does not constitute legal advice. Consult legal counsel for answers to specific privacy and security questions.

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