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Cyber Secure Institute perspective on US health care vulnerabilities

Cyber Secure Institute : 27 May, 2009  (Technical Article)
Director of the Cyber Secure Institute comments on the need to address vulnerabilities in the data protection regime of the US healthcare system
Rob Housman, the Executive Director of the Cyber Secure Institute, has released a statement concerning the recent hacks showing the vulnerability of the healthcare of Americans:

Have you ever told your doctor something private that you wouldn't want your friends and neighbours or a tabloid paper to know?

Have you ever received a medical test result that you wouldn't want shared with your employer?

Recent attacks demonstrate that your most private healthcare information is seriously at risk. And, absent major changes, the risks will grow exponentially.

Last month, hackers attempted to extort $10 million after breaking into a Virginia State web site used by pharmacists to track prescription drug abuse. The records of more than 8 million patients were deleted and a ransom note was put on the Virginia Prescription Monitoring Program's homepage, demanding $10 million dollars in exchange for the return of the records.

At almost the same time, The University of California at Berkeley disclosed that hackers had broken into their health-services database. The University began sending out notification letters to current and former students. The hackers had access to, and may have taken, health insurance information and medical information. The breach in the server took place from October 9, 2008 until April 9 this year, when administrators discovered messages left behind by foreign hackers.

These are not the first instances where cybercriminals have stolen the private healthcare information of Americans. Last December, Lawanda Jackson pleaded guilty to violating federal privacy laws by selling private medical data from celebrities, including Britney Spears, Farah Fawcett and Maria Shriver (wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), to the National Enquirer tabloid. Last October, cybercriminals attacked Express Scripts, one of America's largest processors of pharmacy prescriptions, threatening to release personal information of millions of Americans unless their demands were met. There is an ongoing investigation into the Express Scripts incident.

These recent attacks provide cause for real concern among cybersecurity experts and healthcare professionals alike. Inadequate cybersecurity systems put our most personal data at risk.

What is more disturbing is that the problem is likely to get exponentially worse—unless drastic changes are made. President Obama's healthcare plan is heavily focused on the use of electronic health records to help modernize our nation's healthcare system. The recent stimulus package provides $19 billion for the next two years for the use of health information technology and President Obama has pledged an additional $50 billion total over the next five years. The benefits of "e-Health" are substantial and this is a policy direction our nation should be taking.

However, absent vastly more effective cybersecurity measures, the implementation of e-Health will significantly increase the risks for all Americans. Any e-Health system must be built upon only certified secure, best available IT technologies. The NSA has certified two technologies—the Integrity Global Security operating platform and the Tenix Interactive Link Device—against the most sophisticated cyber threats as being secure against even sophisticated, hostile, well-funded attacks. Only systems like these that are tested, proven and certified at these high levels of security robustness should be trusted with the nation's private healthcare information. Anything less puts the most personal information of all Americans at risk.

Additionally, any move to e-Health must be accompanied by a range of protections to ensure the privacy of data and the protection of individuals and families, which might include:

* A trust fund, which could be paid for through healthcare corporation user fees, that would be available to make whole victims of e-Health data breaches.

* A national e-Health data integrity oversight office charged with ensuring healthcare IT systems are sufficiently secure and are utilizing best available protections and investigating allegations of data breaches or data misuse.

* Statutory protections making clear that victims of health data breaches can recover for all damages of e-Health violations, including loss of employment, loss of insurance, harm to reputation, and other similar harms.

* Along with a host of other protections.
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