AWS Security Blog

A phased approach towards a complex HITRUST r2 validated assessment

Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) offers healthcare organizations a comprehensive and standardized approach to information security, privacy, and compliance. HITRUST Common Security Framework (HITRUST CSF) can be used by organizations to establish a robust security program, ensure patient data privacy, and assist with compliance with industry regulations. HITRUST CSF enhances security, streamlines compliance efforts, reduces risk, and contributes to overall security resiliency and the trustworthiness of healthcare entities in an increasingly challenging cybersecurity landscape.

While HITRUST primarily focuses on the healthcare industry, its framework and certification program are adaptable and applicable to other industries. The HITRUST CSF is a set of controls and requirements that organizations must comply with to achieve HITRUST certification. The HITRUST R2 assessment is the process by which organizations are evaluated against the requirements of the HITRUST CSF. During the assessment, an independent third party assessor examines the organization’s technical security controls, operational policies and procedures, and the implementation of all controls to determine if they meet the specified HITRUST requirements.

HITRUST r2 validated assessment certification is a comprehensive process that involves meeting numerous assessment requirements. The number of requirements can vary significantly, ranging from 500 to 2,000 depending on your environment’s risk factors and regulatory requirements. Attempting to address all of these requirements simultaneously especially when migrating systems to Amazon Web Services (AWS) can be overwhelming. By using a strategy of separating your compliance journey into environments and applications, you can streamline the process and achieve HITRUST compliance more efficiently and within a realistic timeframe.

In this blog post, we start by exploring the HITRUST domain structure, highlighting the security objective of each domain. We then show how you can use AWS configurable services to help meet these objectives.

Lastly, we present a simple and practical reference architecture with an AWS multi-account implementation that you can use as the foundation for hosting your AWS application, highlighting the phased approach for HITRUST compliance. Please note that this blog is intended to assist with using AWS services in a manner that supports an organization’s HITRUST compliance, but a HITRUST assessment is at an organizational level and involves controls that extend beyond the organization’s use of AWS.

HITRUST certification journey – Scope applications systems on AWS infrastructure:

The HITRUST controls needed for certification are structured within 19 HITRUST domains, covering a wide range of technical and administrative control requirements. To efficiently manage the scope of your certification assessment, start by focusing on the AWS landing zone, which serves as a critical foundational infrastructure component for running applications. When establishing the AWS landing zone, verify that it aligns with the AWS HITRUST security control requirements that are dependent on the scope of your assessment. Note that these 19 domains are a combination of technical controls and foundational administrative controls.

After you’ve set up a HITRUST compliant landing zone, you can begin evaluating your applications for HITRUST compliance as you migrate them to AWS. When you expand and migrate applications to the HITRUST-certified AWS landing zone assessed by your third party assessor, you can inherit the HITRUST controls required for application assessment directly from the landing zone. This simplifies and narrows the scope of your assessment activities.

Figure 1 that follows shows the two key phases and how a bottom-up phased approach can be structured with related HITRUST controls.

Figure 1: HITRUST Phase 1 and Phase 2 high-level components

Figure 1: HITRUST Phase 1 and Phase 2 high-level components

The diagram illustrates:

  • An AWS landing zone environment as Phase 1 and its related HITRUST domain controls
  • An application system as Phase 2 and its related application system specific controls

HITRUST domain security objectives:

The HITRUST CSF based certification consists of 19 domains, which are broad categories that encompass various aspects of information security and privacy controls. These domains serve as a framework for your organization to assess and enhance its security posture. These domains cover a wide range of controls and practices related to information security, privacy, risk management, and compliance. Each domain consists of a set of control objectives and requirements that your organization must meet to achieve HITRUST certification.

The following table lists each domain, the key security objectives expected, and the AWS configurable services relevant to the security objectives. These are listed as a reference to give you an idea of the scope of each domain; the actual services and tools to meet specific HITRUST requirements will vary depending upon your scope and its HITRUST requirements.

Note: The information in this post is a general guideline and recommendation based on a phased approach for HITRUST r2 validated assessment. The examples are based on the information available at the time of publication and are not a full solution.

HITRUST domains, security objectives, and related AWS services

HITRUST domain Summary of key security objectives expected in HITRUST domains Related AWS configurable services
1. Information Protection Program
  • Implement information security management program.
  • Verify role suitability for employees, contractors, and third-party users.
  • Provide management guidance aligned with business goals and regulations.
  • Safeguard an organization’s information and assets.
  • Enhance awareness of information security among stakeholders.
AWS Artifact
AWS Service Catalog
AWS Config
Amazon Cybersecurity Awareness Training
2. Endpoint Protection
  • Protect information and software from unauthorized or malicious code.
  • Safeguard information in networks and the supporting network infrastructure
AWS Systems Manager
AWS Config
Amazon Inspector
AWS Shield
3. Portable Media Security
  • Ensure the protection of information assets, prevent unauthorized disclosure, alteration, deletion, or harm, and maintain uninterrupted business operations.
AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM)
Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3)
AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS)
AWS CloudTrail
Amazon Macie
Amazon Cognito
Amazon Workspaces Family
4. Mobile Device Security
  • Ensure information security while using mobile computing devices and remote work facilities.
AWS Database Migration Service (AWS DMS)
AWS IoT Device Defender
AWS Snowball
AWS Config
5. Wireless Security
  • Ensure the safeguarding of information within networks and the security of the underlying network infrastructure.
AWS Certificate Manager (ACM)
6. Configuration Management
  • Ensure adherence to organizational security policies and standards for information systems.
  • Control system files, access, and program source code for security.
  • Document, maintain, and provide operating procedures to users.
  • Strictly control project and support environments for secure development of application system software and information.
AWS Config
AWS Trusted Advisor
Amazon CloudWatch
AWS Security Hub
Systems Manager
7. Vulnerability Management
  • Implement effective and repeatable technical vulnerability management to mitigate risks from exploited vulnerabilities.
  • Establish ownership and defined responsibilities for the protection of information assets within management.
  • Design controls in applications, including user-developed ones, to prevent errors, loss, unauthorized modification, or misuse of information. These controls should encompass input data validation, internal processing, and output data.
Amazon Inspector
Security Hub
8. Network Protection
  • Secure information across networks and network infrastructure.
  • Prevent unauthorized access to networked services.
  • Ensure unauthorized access prevention to information in application systems.
  • Implement controls within applications to prevent errors, loss, unauthorized modification, or misuse of information.
Amazon Route 53
AWS Control Tower
Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC)
AWS Transit Gateway
Network Load Balancer
AWS Direct Connect
AWS Site-to-Site VPN
AWS CloudFormation
9. Transmission Protection
  • Ensure robust protection of information within networks and their underlying infrastructure.
  • Facilitate secure information exchange both internally and externally, adhering to applicable laws and agreements.
  • Ensure the security of electronic commerce services and their use.
  • Employ cryptographic methods to ensure confidentiality, authenticity, and integrity of information.
  • Formulate cryptographic control policies and institute key management to bolster their implementation.
Systems Manager
10. Password Management
  • Register, track, and periodically validate authorized user accounts to prevent unauthorized access to information systems.
AWS Secrets Manager, Systems Manager Parameter Store, AWS KMS
11. Access Control
  • Monitor and log security events to detect unauthorized activities in compliance with legal requirements.
  • Prevent unauthorized access, compromise, or theft of information, assets, and user entry.
  • Safeguard against unauthorized access to networked services, operating systems, and application information.
  • Manage access rights and asset recovery for terminated or transferred personnel and contractors.
  • Ensure adherence to applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and security requirements throughout information systems’ lifecycle.
AWS Resource Access Manager (AWS RAM)
Amazon GuardDuty
AWS Identity Center
12. Audit Logging & Monitoring
  • Comply with laws, regulations, contracts, and security mandates in information systems’ design, operation, use, and management.
  • Document, maintain, and share operating procedures with relevant users.
  • Monitor, record, and uncover unauthorized information processing in line with legal requirements.
AWS Control Tower
Amazon S3
AWS Config
Amazon VPC Flow logs
Amazon OpenSearch Service
13. Education, Training and Awareness
  • Secure information when using mobile devices and teleworking.
  • Make employees, contractors, and third-party users aware of security threats, and responsibilities and reduce human error.
  • Ensure information systems comply with laws, regulations, contracts, and security requirements.
  • Assign ownership and defined responsibilities for protecting information assets.
  • Protect information and software integrity from unauthorized code.
  • Securely exchange information within and outside the organization, following relevant laws and agreements.
  • Develop strategies to counteract business interruptions, protect critical processes, and resume them promptly after system failures or disasters.
Security Hub
Amazon Cybersecurity Awareness Training
Trusted Advisor
14. Third-Party Assurance
  • Safeguard information and assets by mitigating risks linked to external products or services.
  • Verify third-party service providers adhere to security requirements and maintain agreed upon service levels.
  • Enforce stringent controls over development, project, and support environments to ensure software and information security.
AWS Artifact
AWS Service Organization Controls (SOC) Reports
ISO27001 reports
15. Incident Management
  • Address security events and vulnerabilities promptly for timely correction.
  • Foster awareness among employees, contractors, and third-party users to reduce human errors.
  • Consistently manage information security incidents for effective response.
  • Handle security events to facilitate timely corrective measures.
AWS Incident Detection and Response
Security Hub
Amazon Inspector
AWS Config
Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS)
16. Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery
  • Maintain, protect, and make organizational information available.
  • Develop strategies and plans to prevent disruptions to business activities, safeguard critical processes from system failures or disasters, and ensure their prompt recovery.
AWS Backup & Restore
Amazon Aurora
CrossRegion replication
AWS Backup
Disaster Recovery: Pilot Light, Warm Standby, Multi Site Active-Active
17. Risk Management
  • Integrate security as a vital element within information systems.
  • Develop and implement a risk management program encompassing risk assessment, mitigation, and evaluation
Trusted Advisor
AWS Config Rules
18. Physical & Environmental Security
  • Secure the organization’s premises and information from unauthorized physical access, damage, and interference.
  • Prevent unauthorized access to networked services.
  • Safeguard assets, prevent loss, damage, theft, or compromise, and ensure uninterrupted organizational activities.
  • Protect information assets from unauthorized disclosure, modification, removal, or destruction, and prevent interruptions to business activities.
AWS Data Centers
Amazon CloudFront
AWS Regions and Global Infrastructure
19. Data Protection & Privacy
  • Ensure the security of the organization’s information and assets when using external products or services.
  • Ensure planning, operation, use, and control of information systems align with applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and security requirements.
Amazon S3
OpenSearch Service
AWS Artifact

Note: You can use AWS HITRUST-certified services to support your HITRUST compliance requirements. Use of these services in their default state doesn’t automatically ensure HITRUST certifiability. You must demonstrate compliance through formal formulation of policies, procedures, and implementation tailored to your scope, which involves configuring and customizing AWS HITRUST certified services to align precisely with HITRUST requirements within your scope and involves implementation of controls outside of the scope of the use of AWS services (such as appropriate organization-wide policies and procedures).

HITRUST phased approach – Reference architecture:

Figure 2 shows the recommended HITRUST Phase 1 and Phase 2 accounts and components within a landing zone.

Figure 2: HITRUST Phases 1 and 2 architecture including accounts and components

Figure 2: HITRUST Phases 1 and 2 architecture including accounts and components

The reference architecture shown in Figure 2 illustrates:

  • A high-level structure of AWS accounts arranged in HITRUST Phase 1 and Phase 2
  • The accounts in HITRUST Phase 1 include:
    • Management account: The management account in the AWS landing zone is the primary account responsible for governing and managing the entire AWS environment.
    • Security account: The security account is dedicated to security and compliance functions, providing a centralized location for security-related tools and monitoring.
    • Central logging account: This account is designed for centralized logging and storage of logs from all other accounts, aiding in security analysis and troubleshooting.
    • Central audit: The central audit account is used for compliance monitoring, logging audit events, and verifying adherence to security standards.
    • DevOps account: DevOps accounts are used for software development and deployment, enabling continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) processes.
    • Networking account: Networking accounts focus on network management, configuration, and monitoring to support reliable connectivity within the AWS environment.
    • DevSecOps account: DevSecOps accounts combine development, security, and operations to embed security practices throughout the software development lifecycle.
    • Shared services account: Shared services accounts host common resources, such as IAM services, that are shared across other accounts for centralized management.

The account group for HITRUST Phase 2 includes:

  • Tenant A – sample application workloads
  • Tenant B – sample application workloads

HITRUST Phase 1 – HITRUST foundational landing zone assessment phase:

In this phase you define the scope of assessment, including the specific AWS landing zone components and configurations that must be HITRUST compliant. The primary focus here is to evaluate the foundational infrastructure’s compliance with HITRUST controls. This involves a comprehensive review of policies and procedures, and implementation of all requirements within the landing zone scope. Assessing this phase separately enables you to verify that your foundational infrastructure adheres to HITRUST controls. Some of the policies, procedures, and configurations that are HITRUST assessed in this phase can be inherited across multiple applications’ assessments in later phases. Assessing this infrastructure once and then inheriting these controls for applications can be more efficient than assessing each application individually.

By establishing a secure and compliant foundation at the start, you can plan application assessments in later phases, making it simpler for subsequent applications to adhere to HITRUST requirements. This can streamline the compliance process and reduce the overall time and effort required. By assessing the landing zone separately, you can identify and address compliance gaps or issues in your foundational infrastructure, reducing the risk of non-compliance for the applications built upon it. Use the following high-level technical approach for this phase of assessment.

  1. Build your AWS landing zone with HITRUST controls. See Building a landing zone for more information.
  2. Use AWS and configure services according to the HITRUST requirements that are applicable to your infrastructure scope.
  3. The HITRUST on AWS Quick Start guide is a reference for building HITRUST with one account. You can use the guide as a starting point to build a multi account architecture.

HITRUST Phase 2 – HITRUST application assessment phase:

During this phase, you examine your AWS workload application accounts to conduct HITRUST assessments for application systems that are running within the AWS landing zone. You have the option to inherit environment-related controls that have been certified as HITRUST compliant within the landing zone in the previous phase.

The following key steps are recommended in this phase:

  1. Readiness assessment for application scope: Conduct a thorough readiness assessment focused on the application scope, and define boundaries with scoped applications (AWS workload accounts).
  2. HITRUST application controls: Gather specific HITRUST requirements for application scope by creating a HITRUST object for the application scope.
  3. Scoped requirements analysis: Analyze requirements and use requirements that can be inherited from Phase 1 of the infrastructure assessment.
  4. Gap analysis: Work with subject matter experts to conduct a gap analysis, and develop policies, procedures, and implementations for application specific controls.
  5. Remediation: Remediate the gaps identified during the gap analysis activity.
  6. Formal r2 assessment: Work with a third-party assessor to initiate a formal r2 validated assessment with HITRUST.


By breaking the compliance process into distinct phases, you can concentrate your resources on specific areas and prioritize essential assets accordingly. This approach supports a focused strategy, systematically addressing critical controls, and helping you to fulfill compliance requirements in a scalable manner. Obtaining the initial certification for the infrastructure and platform layers establishes a robust foundational architecture for subsequent phases, which involve application systems.

Earning certification at each phase provides tangible evidence of progress in your compliance journey. This achievement instills confidence in both internal and external stakeholders, affirming your organization’s commitment to security and compliance.

For guidance on achieving, maintaining, and automating compliance in the cloud, reach out to AWS Security Assurance Services (AWS SAS) or your account team. AWS SAS is a PCI QSAC and HITRUST External Assessor that can help by tying together applicable audit standards to AWS service-specific features and functionality. They can help you build on frameworks such as PCI DSS, HITRUST CSF, NIST, SOC 2, HIPAA, ISO 27001, GDPR, and CCPA.

If you have feedback about this post, submit comments in the Comments section below. If you have questions about this post, start a new thread on the AWS Security, Identity, & Compliance re:Post or contact AWS Support.

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Abdul Javid

Abdul Javid

Abdul is a Senior Security Assurance Consultant and PCI DSS Qualified Security Assessor with AWS Security Assurance Services, and has more than 25 years of IT governance, operations, security, risk, and compliance experience. Abdul leverages his experience and knowledge to advise AWS customers with guidance and advice on their compliance journey. Abdul earned an M.S. in Computer Science from IIT, Chicago and holds various industry recognized sought after certifications in security and program and risk management from prominent organizations like AWS, HITRUST, ISACA, PMI, PCI DSS, and ISC2.

Cate Ciccolone

Cate Ciccolone

Cate is a Senior Security Consultant for Amazon Web Services (AWS) where she provides technical and advisory consulting services to global healthcare organizations to help them secure their regulated workloads, minimize risk, and meet compliance goals. Her experience spans cybersecurity engineering, healthcare compliance, electronic health record architecture, and clinical application security. Cate is an AWS Certified Solutions Architect and holds several certifications including EC-Council Certified Incident Handler (E|CIH) and HITRUST Certified Practitioner (CCSFP).