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Study finds electronic health records vulnerable

Vulnerabilities in health care software often go unreported.


The results of a fifteen-month study accessing the time to patch software associated with electronic health record (EHR) systems were published today by the eHealth Vulnerability Reporting Program. The program is a collaboration of health care industry organizations, technology companies and security professionals that is attempting to establish best practices within the emerging field of electronic health records in the adoption and reliance of eHealth systems, including electronic medical records (EMR), picture archiving and communication system (PACS), and medical devices. The 39-page report found much room for improvement.

It's one thing to have your credit card information compromised--that can be replaced. It's another to have your health history hacked and made public. The report focused mainly on how medical equipment providers currently disclose vulnerabilities to customers, preventing hospitals and doctors from appropriately managing risk.

The amount of time between when a eHealth vendor is notified of a vulnerability and when that vulnerability is patched exceeded the time needed to patch in mainstream application software. For example, one medical application in the study remained unpatched after 2,211 days; another was 384 days and counting. By comparison, Brian Krebs of the The Washington Post found that the time to patch for Microsoft Internet Explorer was only 284 days.

No one organization has providence over vulnerabilities in eHealth applications, the report found. Organizations such as the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) and Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel (HITSP) offer general security practices and standards, but no assessment of risks associated with reported (or unreported "zero day") threats.

The eHealth Vulnerability Reporting Program would like to see eHealth vendors collaborate with security software vendors to establish ethical testing and reporting, along with better disclosure, vendor certification and, of course, more public education of the problem.