Dartmouth researchers tackle mHealth security with 'Wanda'

A Dartmouth College research team is developing a wireless network security device to help healthcare consumers better secure mobile health devices, as well as data stored in the cloud.

The "magic wand" device, which researchers named "Wanda," is in its early stages, and was developed as part of the Trustworthy Health and Wellness (THaW) project, a $10 million National Science Foundation endeavor announced in late 2015 focused on protecting patient confidentiality and mobile data. 

Research team member Timothy J. Pierson, a doctoral student, tells FierceMobileHealthcare that Wanda is aimed at solving two big problems in digital health: protecting patient data and making it easy for users to secure devices. Often consumers are not familiar with network security or properly configuring devices for safe data collection, sharing and storage, he says.

"In the real world you can't have security if the steps users have to take to achieve it are too difficult," Pierson says. "A great deal of research suggests people will circumvent or avoid security if it is too onerous. We were looking to provide a solution that is secure, easy to use, and fast--even for people who are not tech-savvy."

Security concerns can hamper consumer and provider mHealth adoption, with consumers worried about data theft and providers and physicians wanting assurances that patient data is secure. 

Wanda features two antennas separated by one-half wavelength and taps radio as the communication channel and residents on a Wi-Fi access point. Users pull Wanda from the access point, bring it close to a new device and the wand transfers network information to the device.

According to Pierson, the team was very interested in developing a solution for devices that have a minimal user interface, such as wireless blood pressure monitors that tap a Wi-Fi router at home or remote clinics, to share data with physicians outside a treatment environment. Typically, consumers need to configure a blood pressure monitor with the home network name and router password, which can often be a frustrating experience.

"While blood pressure monitors typically have some type of display, they are normally optimized to show systolic, diastolic and pulse; they are not optimized for setting up connectivity," Pierson says. "The Wanda system can help here by sending the router's SSID and password securely to the blood pressure monitor over radio frequencies. In fact, with Wanda the device doesn't need a display at all."

For more information:
- read the research paper (.pdf)