Mobility in Health Care Settings Increases - as Do the Risks

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Six Mobile Security Issues in 2012

Two trends - one good and one bad - should get the attention of IT and security departments. It's pretty stark: An increasing number of doctors are using tablets (which, with their functionality, presumably is a good thing), while the use of such devices is growing riskier.

First, let's look at usage.

Manhattan Research released a survey, which was reported upon this week at InformationWeek. The study - called "Pulse U.S. 2012" - sought views of 3,015 physicians across 25 specialties who, according to the story, were online during the first quarter of this year. The group found that use of tablets almost doubled since last year and now stands at 62 percent. Half of techno-docs have used the devices at the point where care is administered. Three-screen physicians - PC/laptops, tablets and smartphones - go online more often during their workdays and use each device more online than their one- or two-screen compatriots.

The cautionary note is strong, however. On May 4, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an alert that the burgeoning field of medical communications - indeed, including devices that actually are implanted in patients - creates new dangers. The eWeek story on the alert sums it up:

Network-attached medical devices and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets could bring cyber-security threats that result in the spread of malware and the loss of data, according to the bulletin.

The report provided two examples: Demonstrations at last year's Black Hat and RSA conferences showed how insulin pump settings can be covertly changed. The latter demo was particularly chilling: The new setting could have killed the patient. The report suggests that strong policies controlling which type of device can be used in particular settings are vital.

This is not a new issue, nor is it one that is likely to go away, since the kids' desire to get to their medical needs met quickly won't fade as they age. Fortunately, it is being addressed. A good example can be found in a feature posted this week by Network World about work done by Health Quest, a group north of New York City. The organization created an identity management system that, according to the story, features single sign-on and a number of other features. The selling points for such a system are efficiency and savings as much as security.

That mobile device security is a particularly important issue in health care is no revelation. But it is important to recognize that it is a growing challenge as the use of tablets and smartphones in medical settings increases.

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