by Robert Siciliano

Data Breaches Persist In Health Care

Jun 17, 2010

In September 2009, the Obama administration’s Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act went into effect, requiring hospitals and other health care organization to beef up client data protections. Despite this, a recent study found that health care data is still hemorrhaging from peer to peer networks. A peer-to-peer, commonly abbreviated to P2P, is any distributed network architecture composed of participants that make a portion of their resources (such as processing power, disk storage or network bandwidth) directly available to other network participants, without the need for central coordination instances (such as servers or stable hosts). In simple terms, P2P is software installed on your PC and others PCs that allows the sharing of data from each others computers. Computerworld reports, “One of the more than 3,000 files discovered by the researchers was a spreadsheet containing insurance details, personally identifying information, physician names and diagnosis codes on more than 28,000 individuals. Another document contained similar data on more than 7,000 individuals. Many of the documents contained sensitive patient communications, treatment data, medical diagnoses and psychiatric evaluations. At least five files contained enough information to be classified as a major breach under current health-care breach notification rules.” In my own research, digging through P2P networks, I’ve uncovered tax returns, student loan applications, credit reports and Social Security numbers. I’ve found family rosters which include usernames, passwords and Social Security numbers for entire families. I’ve found Christmas lists, love letters, private photos, videos, and just about anything else that can be saved as a digital file. It’s no surprise data is still leaking. File sharing technologies are easier and more user friendly than ever. Faster broadband connections coupled with faster PCs and bigger hard drives make downloading files a snap. Insurance companies, doctor’s offices and hospitals all have computers and those computers are operated by people who like things that are free. Any bored employee who wants to listen to that song he heard on the way to work can simply download Limewire, eDonkey, BearShare, or any other P2P network. Within minutes, that song is on playing on the employee’s iPod, and his employer’s clients’ data is being shared with the world. This type of breech resulted in blueprints for President Obama’s private helicopter being leaked online. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has asked the Department of Justice and the FTC to help prevent illegal use of peer to peer networks, and in the same letter, asked what the government is doing to protect its citizens. But ultimately, it’s up to you to protect yourself. Don’t install P2P software on your computer. If you aren’t sure whether a family member or employee may have installed P2P software, check for new, unfamiliar applications. A look at your “All Programs Menu” will show nearly every program on your computer. If you see one you don’t recognize, do an online search to see what it is you’ve found. You should also set administrative privileges to prevent the installation of new software without your knowledge. If you must use P2P software, be sure that you don’t share your hard drive’s data. When you install and configure the software, don’t let the P2P program select data for you. The Smartcard Alliance has released an in-depth report called “Medical Identity Theft in Healthcare.”