Homeland Security officials warn of mobile health risks

The Department of Homeland Security has waded into the mHealth arena with some startling charges, among them that mobile devices like smartphones could easily become vectors for malicious attacks, network outages, information theft, and more, in a new report published this month.

"In a world in which communication networks and medical devices can dictate life or death, these systems, if compromised, pose a significant threat to the public and private sector," regulators said in the report. "For example, a widespread malware infection may cause a network outage, impacting a hospital's ability to treat patients or relay critical information."

The report added that as "mini-computers" that can have instantaneous access to hospital networks, [smartphones] pose a major threat to patient information, hospital networks and more.

DHS' recommendations for addressing the problem aren't exactly new. The report calls for hospitals to install anti-virus and malware protections, encrypt data during transmission and on both sending and receiving ends of the channel, require log-ons and password protections, and the like. One interesting suggestion was to route mobile devices through an entirely separate, secured part of the network. We're not sure how realistic the suggestion is, but it certainly points to DHS' seriousness when it comes to mobile security.

"I think it is a very big issue, and health care entities need to take it very seriously," Mac McMillan, chair of the HIMSS Privacy and Security Policy Task Force told eWeek.

And that may be the central issue for the DHS report. DHS officials aren't necessarily asking for bleeding-edge protections, but they've definitely raised the bar on any hospitals who haven't put mobile security at the top of their priority list. CIOs have told us at FierceMobileHealthcare how nerve-wracking it is to think of FDA regulators watching over their shoulders as they create or use mobile medical apps and devices.

Imagine how much more unnerving it could be to have DHS officials show up to take a look, too.

To learn more:
- read the HHS report (.pdf)
- here's eWeek's story