Despite report, network level security "almost irrelevant"

By Brian Dolan
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A recent Frost & Sullivan report that extols the value of mobile technology for healthcare settings missed the mark when it pointed to network level security as the key to wireless health tools' success.

"While mobile technology undoubtedly adds value to healthcare, the question is whether advances in technology pose a security threat, as information transmitted across a network should be accessible only to authorized users worldwide," Frost & Sullivan analysts Jayashree Rajagopal and Luke Thomas wrote in a statement. "Their success depends on the network through which information is transmitted," the analysts concluded.

"The various technologies used for the transmission of information in healthcare include the Public Switched Telephony Network (PSTN), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), cellular, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) and Bluetooth. Most organizations choose technologies for different applications based on throughput, quality, cost and security. Among these, security is perceived and understood to be a major concern for all stakeholders involved in the healthcare sector. With the evolution of GSM to 3G, various security features have been enhanced and implemented to protect the integrity of the user."

The idea that the security of the information rested exclusively on the network technologies struck Mike Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), as an odd assertion.

"Any application that is data based and will be transferring private medical information around isn't going to rely on the network level security, it's going to rely on the application level security," Foley told mobihealthnews.

"We can't have one security level over the cellular line and then another one over the backhaul," Foley continued. "It needs to be consistent. The same goes for one level of security for Bluetooth and then another for cellular and so on -- it needs to be at the application level to protect that data end-to-end. This idea of network-level security is almost irrelevant as a result."

 While ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn cited the perhaps extravagant costs required to quell wireless security paranoia, Foley added that usability might also be sacrificed by overindulging in security.

"Depending on what the wireless technology is and how you do it, adding security to a device might make it so heavy and complicated that no one can use it. I think there is a greater concern for ease-of-use versus security since those two are generally at polar opposites," Foley said.

"Ease-of-use might be the prohibitive factor here as opposed to cost."

Read on for the press release from Frost & Sullivan about its report on network-level security for wireless health.

LONDON, June 30 -- Wireless technologies has been of immense value to medical practitioners, enabling them to increase productivity and improve the availability of quality healthcare globally. However, while mobile technology undoubtedly adds value to healthcare, the question is whether advances in technology pose a security threat, as information transmitted across a network should be accessible only to authorized users worldwide.

Healthcare systems today rely on various applications that improve patient recovery and render clinical services more effective. The main applications in this category include Electronic Health Records (EHR), Computerised Physician Order Entry (CPOE), Decision Support System (DSS) and picture archiving and communication systems (PACS).

"All these four applications have allowed the healthcare system to effectively adapt to the requirements of a volatile healthcare environment," note Frost & Sullivan (http://www.wireless.frost.com) Research Analysts Jayashree Rajagopal and Luke Thomas in new analysis titled 'Is E-healthcare Secure in the Hands of Cellular Technology?' "However, their success depends on the network through which information is transmitted."

The various technologies used for the transmission of information in healthcare include the Public Switched Telephony Network (PSTN), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), cellular, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) and Bluetooth. Most organisations choose technologies for different applications based on throughput, quality, cost and security.

Among these, security is perceived and understood to be a major concern for all stakeholders involved in the healthcare sector. With the evolution of GSM to 3G, various security features have been enhanced and implemented to protect the integrity of the user.

"Such security features will enable cellular technology to gain a competitive advantage over various wireless alternatives as cellular technologies operate in the licensed band providing guaranteed quality of service," remarks Thomas. "This is not the case with unlicensed technologies such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) and RFID."

Currently, Wi-Fi is one of the most widely deployed wireless technologies in hospitals. However, this technology has several challenges with regard to range, security and quality of service (QoS) which can be effectively addressed by next generation cellular technologies such as HSPA and 3G LTE.

Applications such as EHR, CPOE, DSS and PACS utilise sensitive and personal information. Hence, the transfer of such information requires a highly robust, secure and reliable environment to be maintained not only within a country but world-wide as well.

"With the convergence of IT and cellular, high throughput and low bandwidth cryptographic algorithms need to be developed to exchange information across various devices, applications and networks," explains Rajagopal. "In order to tap this opportunistic market, the cellular ecosystem would need to implement an efficient network protocol that will ensure the security of applications used and information transmitted within the healthcare sector."

In the current economic climate, hospitals strive to reduce their operating expenditure (OPEX) and consider various wireless alternatives that can accommodate all of their applications and services across various networks.

"Hence, if mobile operators succeed in addressing OPEX savings with cellular technologies (currently embedded in several client devices of different form factors), that alone could entice hospitals to conduct effective trials with operators," concludes Thomas. "However, to be successful, not only do mobile operators need to demonstrate the value-added benefits of enhanced security and QoS over traditional WiFi networks but also create new business models to demonstrate ROI," adds Rajagopal.

If you are interested in receiving more information on Frost & Sullivan's analysis of mobile communications markets, please contact Joanna Lewandowska, Corporate Communications, at joanna.lewandowska@frost.com providing your query and contact information.

Frost & Sullivan, the Growth Partnership Company, enables clients to accelerate growth and achieve best in class positions in growth, innovation and leadership. The company's Growth Partnership Service provides the CEO and the CEO's Growth Team with disciplined research and best practice models to drive the generation, evaluation, and implementation of powerful growth strategies. Frost & Sullivan leverages over 45 years of experience in partnering with Global 1000 companies, emerging businesses and the investment community from more than 35 offices on six continents. To join our Growth Partnership, please visit http://www.frost.com.

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