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Jan 2016

The Wonderful World Data Security and HIPAA

Data! Data! Data! Our culture is obsessed with it. Our technology gathers it. Our companies use it. Our criminals steal it. It is all so 1984. Big Brother is here and he is tracking our personal behavior for volumes of information that marketers, retailers and insurers are drooling to have in their possession

In the 1980s, we lived in a world where gold, oil and frozen concentrated orange juice were the commodities to be cornered. Today, the hottest commodity is data. It is what made Mark Zuckerberg a gazillionaire and drives Silicon Valley mega-companies such as Google, Apple and Yahoo.

When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed by Congress in 1996, the legislature probably had no idea that the Big Brother protections of the law would become so important. Title II of HIPAA, known as the Administrative Simplification provisions, requires national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health insurance plans, and employers. Twenty years later, we are now realizing that the fear of data breaches and violations has exploded past the computer hard drive at a Hospital employee’s desk.

The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas illustrated how we are now living in quite a mobile world that, if we’re not careful, exposes HIPAA-protected personal information. Just look at the explosion of how we work today: laptops, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches and smart cars — all amped with apps and website capability that provides front and back doors for hackers to steal valuable information.

The data dangers

The data danger exists. It is now all about controlling and policing it. We have washing machines that monitor how much detergent we use and how often we wash clothes. We have refrigerators that not only provide weather updates and stream video, but they also let us know when the vegetables are rotting, or worse, that the Pepsi can supply is at DEFCON 1. Which all seems funny, unless our dear new fridge decided to share this information with our personal physicians, or worse, the world.

Electronic experts have determined even smart appliances are vulnerable to computer hackers. As are webcams that may be used for security or patient monitoring, with cyber breaches already happening. A family in Washington was startled to see the camera moving with a horror-movie voice uttering, “Wake up, little boy, Daddy’s coming for you.”

Now here is the scariest revelation. Other than the HIPAA provision, there is very little regulation monitoring the cyberspace world. With billions of internet-connected gadgets in play every day, it is critical for those in the medical field to be sure not to look the other way.

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