By Nancy Ferris
Sept. 17, 2007
Hackers can access many e-health records and modify them unbeknownst to
the softwares legitimate users, according to a new study by an
organization concerned about EHR vulnerabilities.
The E-Health Vulnerability Reporting Program (EHVRP) , a nonprofit
organization formed in 2006, issued a summary of its findings after a
15-month study assessing the security risks associated with EHR systems.
It found that a low level of hacking skills would suffice to get into a
system, retrieve data and make changes, such as altering medication
dosages or deleting records.
The good news: The risk of vulnerability exploitation can be
dramatically reduced when vulnerabilities are known and appropriate
security controls are in place, the reports executive summary states.
For the most part, EHR systems are no more vulnerable to hackers than
other kinds of application software used in other industries, the report
states. However, medical software users are less aware of
vulnerabilities and are spending less on IT security as a portion of
their revenues, the study found.
It recommended that EHR software vendors do more testing of their
systems security and disclose to customers any vulnerabilities they
find. Vendors' remediation of vulnerabilities often takes too long, it
The study is leading to the formation of another organization that will
focus on health information technology application security. The health
care industry is taking steps to be more diligent and coordinated in
addressing information security issues, Daniel Nutkis, a Dallas
consultant and an EHVRP board member, said in a statement.
To that end, a number of leading organizations representing providers,
medical device manufacturers, electronic health record vendors,
information security vendors, health plans, pharmacies and
pharmaceutical manufacturers have begun the formation of an organization
to shepherd and guide information security issues facing the US
healthcare industry," he added.
"The organization will focus on information security process, practice
and policy, while coordinating with the existing national and
international standards and certification organizations. It will
publicly announce its plans shortly.
Although the Certification Commission for Healthcare IT tests EHR
products for security, the report states that testing was not revealing
the vulnerabilities. The EHVRP did penetration testing of seven systems,
including five certified by CCHIT.
One of the systems tested was the system used by HealthCare Partners
Medical Group in Southern California. Leo Dittemore, the groups IT
security director, said the testing revealed vulnerabilities that the
group has remedied with measures such as an intrusion-prevention system.
The study also included a survey of 850 health care provider
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