Mobile phone technology has gone through a small revolution in the past decade. The changes it brought to consumer behavior affected all industries, the medical field included. The healthcare industry started developing mobile apps to make care more accessible, available, and affordable. Now, care organizations are learning to make them as efficient and safe for patients as possible.
To be helpful for the healthcare vertical, these apps have to host tons of sensitive data: patients’ names and social security numbers, bank card information, detailed data about their health conditions, and so on. Tons of identifiable data makes healthcare software one of the favorite targets for hackers: they can sell the health record of one patient for up to $1,000 on the Darknet.
Mobile healthcare apps are especially prone to exploitation, as users often choose convenience over security. (For instance, by hooking their phone to an open Wi-Fi spot — even though the system usually warns about security risks.)
79% of all cyberattacks happen within healthcare. As care services moved online due to the pandemic, the number of cybercrimes in the industry significantly increased. In 2021, the cost of data breaches is expected to reach $6 trillion. For healthcare organizations and software vendors that develop apps for them, that means it’s vital to make security and protection of user’s personal info a priority.
Here are simple tips you can start with to keep your users’ data safe.
Strengthen User Authentication
Most data breaches in mobile apps in healthcare happen due to hackers weaponizing user’s lack of security awareness: for example, their weak passwords. It’s the job of product owners and software developers to think about it on the building stage of development and forbid them from using 12345678 as a means of their data protection.
Make sure your healthcare app requires a complex password with letters in different registers, numbers, and symbols. Implement two-steps verification. (Some users consider it troublesome, but lately, the majority of them have started to make peace with the process.)
Establish Strict Access Policy
If you’re building an application that handles patient’s specific medical info — records of video conversations with a therapist, their medication adherence statistics, etc., — forbid agents that aren’t a part of this particular medical process (physicians, therapists, etc.) to view this information unless they’ve been granted temporal access.
For example, in a telemedicine app, a dermatologist shouldn’t see the results of a patient’s blood test without a prior access request. Your developers should not be able to view any of the patient’s data.
Set Up Short Session Timeouts
Healthcare applications should be treated as bank apps — because of the personal financial info — and one of the main features of these apps is limited session duration. Even if the user is not idle, the system should either force them to re-login and kick them out if they don’t.
Session timeouts are your app’s protection in case users forget their smartphone somewhere or it was stolen, connected to an unsecured network, and so on. They are annoying but necessary to protect patient’s data.
Don’t Ask for Data You Won’t Need
Never request more permissions for your app than it needs to function in the system. Use the least privilege principle and never ask for data you won’t use. (Because, in the case of a breach, even if you don’t use it, someone else will.)
If you want users to allow you access to their contacts, bank info, or location, make sure to explain how you will use this data in a clear, concise, user-friendly language.
Make sure to use encryption algorithms to secure the databases of your app. Encrypt data both in transit (when it’s transmitted from the server to the user’s device and back) and at rest (when it’s simply stored on the user’s device or within the server). Store patients’ information in a separate database from the app’s other data.
Constantly Run Security Tests
One of the best ways to keep your healthcare app secure is to test it thoroughly and often. Here are a few things you should keep in mind for the testing:
- Your app shouldn’t store cookies for a long time. It’s better if it stores them for a very short period (~an hour) and then deletes them forever — or doesn’t store them at all.
- Your app should have mechanisms to “clear up” the input it’s getting from the user. Treat any input as a threat: it could be modified by hackers on the fly, without the user noticing. (Short timeouts should help with this one, too.)
- Often, other applications on the user’s phone can read through the data your app is storing on the device. If that’s happening, your data isn’t encrypted properly, so check for that regularly.
- Run recurrent checks on the servers you’re using. Most hosting companies like AWS or Microsoft Azure say they’re super secure and HIPAA-complaint, but that doesn’t mean they are 100% safe.
Security tests need to be a part of your mobile app maintenance routine — even after product release. It’s also a good idea to keep track of new malware and phishing schemes to know what to prepare for.
Also, if you’re building a mobile app healthcare organizations will use to connect to their patients, provide the former with documentation on how to recognize phishing letters: human errors are the biggest security risk, but it’s possible to address it. It will take a bit of your time, but doctors will gain some pinnacle of security awareness that might become critically important.
Who Can Help You Build a Secure App?
You can cover the security aspects of the app development by yourself. Learn about HIPAA regulations and ISO standards that fit the profile of your product. The former will provide you with more recommendations on patients’ information protection — and the latter will give you a management framework you can implement to build security-first business processes.
Alternatively, you can use the services of a vendor. Don’t forget to scrutinize their previous work and talk to their customers. Choose a company that has the most expertise in the niche.
Diversido has 8 years of experience in healthcare mobile app development. They follow HIPAA Rules and other US healthcare regulations and build beautiful solutions for the medical business vertical.
In this article, we went over some important simple tips on how you can secure patients’ data:
- Require a strong, complicated password
- Use two-factor verification
- Limit session duration
- Encrypt databases
- Constantly test for vulnerabilities
Note that these tips are just a starting point — recommendations for you to use in the groundwork for your product’s development pipeline. Cybersecurity is easier to implement in the planning stage than in the middle of production, so don’t make it an afterthought.