October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which is led by the U.S. government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in conjunction with the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA)—a national non-profit focused on cybersecurity education & awareness. McAfee is pleased to announce that we’re a proud participant.
Fitness trackers worn on the wrist, glucose monitors that test blood sugar without a prick, and connected toothbrushes that let you know when you’ve missed a spot—welcome to internet-connected healthcare. It’s new realm of care with breakthroughs big and small. Some you’ll find in your home, some you’ll find inside your doctor’s office, yet all of them are connected. Which means they all need to be protected. After all, they’re not tracking any old data. They’re tracking our health data, one of the most precious things we own.
What is internet-connected healthcare?
Internet-connected healthcare, also known as connected medicine, is a broad topic. On the consumer side, it covers everything from smart watches that track health data to wireless blood pressure monitors that you can use at home. On the practitioner side, it accounts for technologies ranging from electronic patient records, network-enabled diagnostic devices, remote patient monitoring in the form of wearable devices, apps for therapy, and even small cameras that can be swallowed in the form of a pill to get a view of a patient’s digestive system.
Additionally, it also includes telemedicine visits, where you can get a medical issue diagnosed and treated remotely via your smartphone or computer by way of a video conference or a healthcare provider’s portal—which you can read about more in one of my blogs from earlier this year. In all, big digital changes are taking place in healthcare—a transformation that’s rapidly taking shape to the tune of a global market expected to top USD 534.3 billion by 2025.
Privacy and security in internet-connected healthcare
Advances in digital healthcare have come more slowly compared to other aspects of our lives, such as consumer devices like phones and tablets. Security is a top reason why. Not only must a healthcare device go through a rigorous design and approval process to ensure it’s safe, sound, and effective, it also held to similar rigorous degrees of regulation when it comes to medical data privacy. For example, in the U.S., we have the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which sets privacy and security standards for certain health information.
Taken together, this requires additional development time for any connected medical device or solution, in addition to the time it takes to develop one with the proper efficacy. Healthcare device manufacturers cannot simply move as quickly as, say, a smartphone manufacturer can. And rightfully so.
Seven tips for protecting your internet-connected healthcare devices
However, for this blog, we’ll focus on the home and personal side of the equation, with devices like fitness trackers, glucose monitors, smart watches, and wearable devices in general—connected healthcare devices that more and more of us are purchasing on our own. To be clear, while these devices may not always be categorized as healthcare devices in the strictest (and regulatory) sense, they are gathering your health data, which you should absolutely protect. Here are some straightforward steps you can take:
1) First up, protect your phone
Many medical IoT devices use a smartphone as an interface, and as a means of gathering, storing, and sharing health data. So whether you’re an Android owner or iOS owner, get security software installed on your phone so you can protect all the things it accesses and controls. Additionally, installing it will protect you and your phone in general as well.
2) Set strong, unique passwords for your medical IoT devices
Some IoT devices have found themselves open to attack because they come with a default username and password—which are often published on the internet. When you purchase any IoT device, set a fresh password using a strong method of password creation. And keep those passwords safe. Instead of keeping them on a notebook or on sticky notes, consider using a password manager.
3) Use two-factor authentication
You’ve probably come across two-factor authentication while banking, shopping, or logging into any other number of accounts. Using a combination of your username, password, and a security code sent to another device you own (typically a mobile phone) makes it tougher for hackers to crack your device. If your IoT device supports two-factor authentication, use it for extra security.
4) Update your devices regularly
This is vital. Make sure you have the latest updates so that you get the latest functionality from your device. Equally important is that updates often contain security upgrades. If you can set your device to receive automatic updates, do so.
5) Secure your internet router
Your medical IoT device will invariably use your home Wi-Fi network to connect to the internet, just like your other devices. All the data that travels on there is personal and private use already, and that goes double for any health data that passes along it. Make sure you use a strong and unique password. Also change the name of your router so it doesn’t give away your address or identity. One more step is to check that your router is using an encryption method, like WPA2, which will keep your signal secure. You may also want to consider investing in an advanced internet router that has built-in protection, which can secure and monitor any device that connects to your network.
6) Use a VPN and a comprehensive security solution
Similar to the above, another way you can further protect the health data you send over the internet is to use a virtual private network, or VPN. A VPN uses an encrypted connection to send and receive data, which shields it from prying eyes. A hacker attempting to eavesdrop on your session will effectively see a mish-mash of garbage data, which helps keep your health data secure.
7) When purchasing, do your research
One recent study found that 25% of U.S. homeowners with broadband internet expect to purchase a new connected consumer health or fitness device within the next year. Just be sure yours is secure. Read up on reviews and comments about the devices you’re interested in, along with news articles about their manufacturers. See what their track record is on security, such as if they’ve exposed data or otherwise left their users open to attack.
Take care of your health, and your health data
Bottom line, when we speak of connected healthcare, we’re ultimately speaking about one of the most personal things you own: your health data. That’s what’s being collected. And that’s what’s being transmitted by your home network. Take these extra measures to protect your devices, data, and yourself as you enjoy the benefits of the connected care you bring into your life and home.