16 Feb 2017

How was your Christmas? Get anything good? This may not surprise you, but Amazon had a pretty good Christmas this year. According to an Amazon press release, they sold 9x more echo devices than last year and millions of Alexa devices. That means millions of households just connected to the internet with personal assistant devices, and while that may not mean very much to the uninformed ear it’s bad news for cybersecurity.

Especially healthcare cybersecurity.

It’s nothing new for manufacturers and entrepreneurs to work together to make life as easy as possible for consumers. But that idea is taking a new turn with healthcare and devices like Amazon’s Alexa. Just last month, a home healthcare solutions company named Orbita demonstrated a graphical tool that will allow healthcare providers to easily create voice assistants like Alexa or Apple’s Siri to manage their healthcare. The hope is that everything from checking appointment dates to pain management and patient monitoring will be accomplished by voice-activated assistants. The tool, called the Voice Experience Designer, is based on Alexa, so if you or someone in your household received an Amazon assistant for Christmas you could be seeing the future of your healthcare.

And that’s just as dangerous as it sounds.

If the vision behind the Voice Experience Designer became reality, a hospital or private practice’s cybersecurity would only be as strong as the home networks of their patients. To connect to the data and personnel needed to monitor things like pain and medication the devices would need to connect through the patient’s home network and the care providers. This would create a massive challenge for care providers because of the doorway it gives hackers into their networks.

Today, the average American has many more IOT devices that give hackers another possible gateway into their networks than they know. Coffee machines, thermostats, cell phone chargers, you name it and there’s probably a version of it that connects to the internet. These are all doorways that care providers cannot guarantee to be secure and updated against cybercriminals. A device like the internet voice assistant like the Alexa would create a bridge between a patients IOT devices and a care providers network.

But that’s not the only potential danger with a medical internet voice assistant. These portals would be supported by apps, much like the mobile health apps in fitness wristbands and food trackers. Users of these apps input things like weight, exercise routines, and eating habits without ever reading the terms of service. That means that personal health information, some of which is not covered by HIPAA, is being given out by consumers with no strings attached.

This information can be sold to marketers or be built into a database and used by anyone from mortgage brokers determining loans for home buyers to employers considering a prospective employee. We are already giving away private health information that can give marketers an upper hand by not paying attention to terms and agreements on fitness apps. And the future looks like we will be communicating not just our eating habits but our medical status through similar apps directly to care providers, do you see the importance of knowing a thing or two about cybersecurity?

Of course, you have the choice to stay in the dark and not pay attention to cybersecurity news. But know that if you do you’re handing over your private information over to not only cybercriminals but marketers and anyone with enough money and know-how to access it. Technology like the Voice Experience Designer are going to happen no matter what you do, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. You can know which devices will hand your information away and which ones will protect it, all you have to do is stay up to date on everything cyber.

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