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Guarding Your Health Data From Attack: A Few Words With Sachin Shetty

By David Simpson

Imagine you're the CEO of a health care corporation and, one day, a hacker breaches your patients' data. In an instant you've lost your customers' trust.

Public relations disaster. Urgent security matter. Possibly, a hit to your bottom line.

Maybe you needed an extra layer of protection, like the blockchain-based system developed by Sachin Shetty and his team at Old Dominion University along with their partners at Sentara Healthcare.

Shetty is an associate director at ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Center (VMASC) and associate professor in the Department of Computational Modeling and Simulation Engineering. As reported in an odu.edu article last month, Shetty and his VMASC team are in the midst of a three-year sponsored research agreement to explore the possibilities of blockchain in healthcare.

You may know about blockchain in connection with such digital currencies as bitcoin. This highly secure way of keeping records results in a "distributed ledger" of transactions, one that can be added to but not altered.

The ODU/Sentara project, known as Bloxure, is an identity management system that can detect rogue mobile devices on a health care network. The partners intend to market it as a commercial product.

This project is an example of how ODU talent can work with local partners to advance programs with the potential to benefit the community as well as the broader population.

The Center for Faculty Development reached out to Shetty with a few questions:

Tell us about the importance of trust in health care and how blockchain-based technology fits into that.

Trust in healthcare is challenging due to multiple and disparate stakeholders that are operating under diverse governance rules. Blockchain tech can achieve interoperability and facilitate information exchange without the need for intermediaries, and that will increase trust.

Say that a doctor writes notes about a patient's care and those notes are logged on a blockchain. How would that be more secure than storing them on a traditional database?

The advantage of blockchain is to preserve the integrity of the information. In the example of a doctor writing notes, if the doctor later on decides to edit the notes, Blockchain would prevent the doctor from erasing the previous notes and require him to append his updates, thus creating a lineage and avoiding modification of data.

Lay out a scenario in which a health care network is attacked. Then describe how the Bloxure system would protect and respond.

Most healthcare facilities install cameras inside the building for monitoring and surveillance. These cameras are connected to the internal hospital computer network. As these cameras typically involve frequent software updates done remotely by the vendor, it is quite possible for a malicious software update that would try to exfiltrate MRI data from imaging servers. Bloxure platform's medical device security capability checks for all information exchanges between connected devices. A camera should not ever communicate with an imaging server housing MRI data. Bloxure can provide early alerts and ensure that the security admins are alerted.

What might be the motivations for such attacks?

In health care, there is a huge premium to gain access to personal health information. So, the main motivation for attackers is to gain access to this information and electronic health records and sell this data to companies for profit.

Where does the joint project with Sentara stand? What are the next steps? Would Bloxure replace traditional databases?

In our current three-year research agreement we have demonstrated the efficacy of blockchain in health care and developed a prototype that can be deployed in operational settings. The next step is to commercialize the platform in collaboration with Sentara. Bloxure will not replace the traditional database. It will work with existing databases by providing an extra layer of security.

What are your hopes for Bloxure?

The plan for Bloxure is to drive digital transformation in health care.

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