Digital Health Poses National Security Risk


June 10, 2015

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The Chinese are hacking our medical records. As electronic health records (EHRs) and Radio Frequency ID (RFID) medical device tracking expand under federal law, America has become vulnerable as a nation. Yet Congress continues to push interoperable Health IT at a serious risk to national security.
For example, the U.S. Senate today held a hearing on “Health Information Exchange: A Path Towards Improving the Quality and Value for Patients” -- and will hold another pro-EHR hearing next week. Yet these terms -- “quality” and “value” – aren’t what they claim. As Dr. Charles Krauthammer has written, the EHR system is causing doctors to quit. It has lead to medical errors, dissatisfied patients and demoralized doctors – and now cyber espionage.
Highly accessible data was always the plan -- a way for government and health plans to contain costs by tying the doctor’s hands . But now the Chinese and likely militant Islam are coming for our medical data too. And that poses another danger.
In February, Anthem Inc., which owns Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in 14 states, announced that the records of 78.8 million people were compromised, including 1.3 million federal employees. Government hackers in China, the same group that targeted a small U.S. defense contractor, have been blamed.
China also appears to be the culprit for the most recent cyber attack against the federal Office of Personal Management (OPM), which compromised the data of four million federal employees.
China’s accumulation of employment, health, personal and other private data on federal employees is alarming. Officials think this may be a highly orchestrated espionage campaign with serious implications for citizens in sensitive areas of the world as well as federal workers who may be vulnerable to various espionage efforts.
As the media reports:
“Because the OPM handles most background checks for federal-government employees, the attack raises concerns over potential compromise of intelligence agents.” (DCJ)
“By revealing who has security clearances and at what level, the Chinese may now be able to identify, expose and blackmail U.S. government officials around the world” (CNN)
“There is a systemic effort underway by China and other adversaries to crib sensitive data on powerful people and covert operators in Washington, intelligence analysts say.” (Nextgov)
“But ‘if I know you have a clearance from the USIS breach and I know that maybe your husband or wife has cancer  from the Anthem breach, … maybe I can eventually convince you to betray your country,’ Barger said, as an example of how medical data could be used to recruit human assets.” (Nextgov)
Obamacare is also a security threat. The $394 million federal Health Data Services Hub -- the cyber backbone of the ACA Exchange system – “is designed to link databases at HHS and IRS with the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments, the Social Security Administration, the Office of Personnel Management and the Peace Corps” (Government Executive). As noted by the Data Center Journal:
“…systems like the Federal Data Services Hub pose a tremendous danger because of their aggregation of vast amounts of citizen data.”
“What hacker, for instance, wouldn’t love to get a peek at the Federal Data Services Hub backing the (insecure) website?”
Obama’s EHR mandate makes America vulnerable. In 2009, the HITECH Act required clinics and hospitals use electronic health records or face financial penalties starting this year. Amazingly, Republicans are now on board. H.R. 2, the “Doc Fix” bill, signed in April, relies on EHRs for payment reform and H.R. 6, the pending 21st Century Cures Act would decertify any doctor’s EHR that wasn’t interoperable and able to hook up to a nationwide EHR system.
But according to Reuters, “Billy Rios, founder of security company Laconicly, said he had found infected systems while working with several healthcare organisations. [sic] ‘Clinical software is riddled with security vulnerabilities,’ he said.”
As bad as it can be, criminals who simply want to grab your dollars and go do not endanger America. Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea want more. These enemies of the West want to use the data to disarm, disable and attack the United States.
Why is Congress pushing for and funding linked and online-accessible data systems that put citizens – indeed America itself – at risk?
Calling for a halt to interoperability mandates for health data,
Twila Brase, RN, PHN
President and Co-founder
P.S. Today was the first of three U.S. Senate hearings on making EHRs interoperable. Please contact two or three members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, including Chairman Alexander, and share your opinions about the EHR mandate and its impact on your privacy and our national security! Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121