Security Safeguards Privacy

Health care organizations are pushing to comply with HIPAA privacy mandates.

The nexus between network security and consumer privacy is increasingly being seen in measures health care organizations are taking to comply with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Systems deployed last April to meet HIPAAs privacy deadline will help achieve compliance with a security deadline in April 2005.

At Childrens Hospital, in Boston, the IT department this year implemented an integrated system of password management and user provisioning that meets HIPAAs privacy mandates without impeding the staffs access to data, said Scott Ogawa, chief technology officer at the hospital.

"We were stuck between a rock and a hard place," Ogawa said last week at the Inside ID conference here. "Our job is not to stand in the way of the caregiving process. Clinicians demand immediate access to their data."

One of the greatest challenges the hospital faced was securing the network password system, which, according to Ogawa, presents one of the top 10 threats to security. Easy-to-guess passwords are common, he said.

"It would probably shock you, but before HIPAA, youd walk around in ICU, and you would see several notes [with passwords] on each of the monitors," Ogawa said, adding that resetting passwords costs the hospital $160,000 per year and that employees who forgot passwords could face long delays before regaining access to the network.

The integrated password management and user provisioning system not only improves security, it also improves access to data, Ogawa said. Overall help desk calls dropped by 80 percent, and the hospital is saving $207,000 per year.

Enterprise identity management for public-facing systems can be more complicated, and the growing pool of users alone creates new challenges for privacy, said Paula Arcioni, identity management services manager at the New Jersey Office of Information Technology, in Trenton.

Most services provided by the New Jersey government—the equivalent of a $25 billion enterprise—are not available online. For the services that are online, New Jersey provides single-sign-on anonymous access, maintaining minimal user information, Arcioni said. The system logs a users IP address and host name and the server accessed, but it does not require real names. This system is not practical for many enterprise-level online activities.

"Anonymous access is not easily achievable in your typical high-value transaction," Arcioni said.

Large organizations in all sectors are increasingly examining new systems of network and plant access. By 2006, one-third of all Fortune 500 companies plan to use smart cards, according to smart-card maker Gemplus International SA. In a survey of 69 Fortune 500 senior executives, Gemplus found that 30 percent of the companies are testing or using smart cards.