Are mobile phones secure enough for health data?

By Brian Dolan

A recent study commission by Juniper Networks -- which, mind you, is a security firm -- found that seven out of 10 people store sensitive information like medical and bank information on their mobile phone without any security installed. The study also found that during the past year, 2 million people in the United States had lost or had their phone stolen. What is perhaps unexpected is that four out of five survey respondents to the Juniper study cited security as a top priority when buying or using a smartphone.

Juniper Networks' executive vice president Mark Bauhaus told the BBC News that "we are all living the mobile dream and the next killer app is peace of mind. Mobile phones represent the fastest adopted technology in the history of mankind - faster than video camcorders or the TV. I think the issue of security it hitting us quite quickly. As we grow the number of devices, so the bad guys increase and the sophistication of attacks also grow."

So how pervasive are security issues among mobile phones? Juniper found that last year there was a 250 percent jump in the number of threats for mobile from spyware and viruses. In its research of 6,000 participants across some 16 countries, Juniper found that 61 percent of all reported smartphone infections were spyware that could monitor the communication from the device.

There are a handful of security-focused companies working in mobile health today, including among others: Diversinet (which has proven itself secure enough for the US Army) and CellTrust.

While the Juniper Networks survey is indeed self-serving for the security company, it is also an important reminder to mobile health service providers that security should not be an afterthought. When it comes to health data on mobile phones -- in many cases -- it needs to be baked in.

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