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Tech News (more headlines) 05-29-2003

File Sharing, Instant Messaging Applications Jeopardize Healthcare Efforts To Comply With Privacy And Security Laws

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AMES, IA -- (MARKET WIRE) -- 28-05-2003 --

Hospitals and healthcare organizations are working to meet the security and privacy regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). However, a report issued today by Palisade Systems and the HIPAA Academy found that the efforts of these organizations may be at risk by allowing peer-to-peer (P2P) and instant messenger (IM) applications to run on their networks. The report concludes that by failing to control P2P and instant messaging, hospitals and other healthcare organizations risk compromising patient health information and an increased exposure to lawsuits.

"P2P applications open up a healthcare organization's network to the outside world," said Mark Glowacki, HIPAA Compliance Manager of the HIPAA Academy. "Applications like P2P and IM allow employees to communicate and share files covertly with outside parties. Because these applications can run without being detected by conventional security appliances like firewalls, security violations are only discovered after the fact. With instant messaging, undocumented communications regarding a patient may occur without the healthcare organization's knowledge leading to an unintentional breach of HIPAA's access requirements."

In addition to undetected file sharing, P2P and IM can expose an organization to security threats targeted at these applications like viruses, worms, and spyware. Several P2P applications include spyware as a standard part of the installation, which may allow for unauthorized collection and distribution of confidential information. Free instant messaging applications can allow a hacker to take over the user's computer through security vulnerabilities that are not actively patched.

"No organization with P2P or uncontrolled IM programs running on its network can be HIPAA compliant," said Doug Jacobson, Palisade Systems' president and chief technology officer. "The applications open up too many security holes, and companies discover them too late. In the Fall of 2002, a Colorado city government learned the types of exposures they faced after an individual downloaded police passwords and other sensitive city information. The files were taken from the hard drive of the city's network administrators. Hospitals running these applications will be confronting the same potential reality."

The full report is available for download from the Palisade Systems Web site at: www.palisadesys.com.

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