HHS security goes back to basics

Don't plug smartphones into medical machines. Log off your computer. Keep your password to yourself. The medical community has plenty of room to improve when it comes to keeping critical data safe.

Health professionals looking to implement effective security measures on a budget might want to stick to the KISS principle.

The reason, as Michael McCoy, chief health information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, put it: “Common sense is uncommon.”

Speaking alongside other HHS higher-ups, McCoy and his colleagues shared their simple prescriptions for better security as part of the July 31 Health Summit sponsored by AFCEA’s D.C. chapter.

Start, and maybe stay, small

Rose-Marie Nsahlai, a senior adviser in the same HHS office as McCoy, said she has witnessed myriad breaches of basic cyber hygiene in hospital systems.

Most organizations don’t have insider-threat training, they don’t terminate old user accounts or monitor employee activities, and plenty of hospital staff neglect to log off computers and even actively share passwords.

Suzanne Schwartz, of HHS’s emergency preparedness outfit, said she has seen nurses plug their smart phones into medical devices to charge them – without thinking of the potential vulnerabilities that could open.

“There’s a whole laundry list out there [of problems to address],” Nsahlai said. “We can’t address everything but we can address the big areas that need protection.”

“Simple, basic hygiene can mitigate the potential for intrusions,” added Schwartz.

And it’s good that basic steps could yield big results, because money is tight.

“A big data encryption scheme is tremendously expensive,” noted NATO cyber adviser Curtis Levinson as he bemoaned a lack of federal funding for medical system security. Privacy has become a direct function of cryptography, he argued, saying, “unless you encrypt, you become vulnerable to violation.”

(It’s worth noting, as McCoy did at the Health Summit and others have before, that encryption wouldn’t have helped in the Office of Personnel Management breaches.)

Beyond basic cyber hygiene, the medical system professionals offered a range of security suggestions.

Nsahlai decried the lack of user behavior analytics in health care and called for a switch from SHA-1 hashing to the stronger SHA-2.

McCoy recommended national health ID numbers, totally separate from other identifying information, to prevent hackers from having access to the demographic data “gold” we currently send with medical transactions.

It’s something HHS is barred, for now, from implementing he noted, saying, “Congress will have to take the handcuffs off HHS.”

McCoy cautioned against overburdening practitioners with security measures.

He recalled a small faith-based, mission-driven care center, constantly cash-strapped, and wondered whether the security measures they could afford would leave them spending 30 or 60 seconds each time logging on to their systems.

“I am for privacy and I am for security, but I’m also for seeing the patients and getting the work done,” he said. “There’s a balance.”

Steven Hernandez, CISO for HHS’s inspector general, advised a combination of technical and cultural change, and disagreed with McCoy on the burdens of added security.

Employees might complain at first about new security measures, but they’ll get used to them.

“People get on with their day to day,” he said. “[T]hey put in the PIV cards, they get on with it.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.