John O'Connor

Long-term care providers go to great lengths to keep residents out of harm’s way. But it appears that the data many operators count on might be anything but safe.

And if you think this matter is limited to other types of healthcare settings, think again. As several media outlets recently reported, documents added to a file-sharing website might have been used to lift information from three nursing homes in New York.

Some of the data was fairly detailed. For example, one document taken from Campbell Hall Rehabilitation Center included the Internet addresses of wireless access points for 11 rooms, facility blueprints, and passwords for network access. Fortunately, no confidential health information about residents appears to have been stolen.

Campbell Hall and the two other facilities involved — Glengariff Health Care Center and the Bronx Center for Rehabilitation & Healthcare — have taken steps to ensure the stolen documents did not pose serious security risks.

But it’s not just run-of-the-mill data that’s vulnerable. Internet-connected medical devices like dialysis machines are also at risk, experts say.

A new report from IT-security firm SANS found that nearly 50,000 “malicious events” took place at healthcare organizations in just over a year. Moreover, networks and devices at 375 healthcare-related organizations were found to be compromised during this period, some of which are still compromised.

So what’s a provider to do? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. But exercising extreme caution and vigilance are price-of-admission requirements. And you’d better make darn sure any technology vendors you work with are up to snuff. Another helpful resource emerged last month, when federal officials announced the launch of a Cybersecurity Framework.  

The framework lists standards, best practices and guidelines that can be used to help ensure cybersecurity. The framework also offers guidance regarding privacy and civil liberties considerations that may result from cyber security activities.

“The more systems we secure, the more secure we all are,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson while unveiling the program.

“Everyone needs to work on this,” he added. Unfortunately, it appears that the real work may just be getting started.


John O’Connor is McKnight’s Editorial Director.