Krishna Kumar Venkatasubramanian: Privacy and Security in Healthcare

November 18, 2016

In a world increasingly connected by technology, comes the risk of these systems being compromised. 

Professor Krishna Kumar Venkatasubramanian, assistant professor of computer science, researches how interoperable medical devices---devices that “talk” to each other by sharing data, can become more secure.

As Venkatasubramanian explains, interoperable devices are a necessity for fast-paced and stressful environments such as an intensive care unit. Typically, a patient is connected to several different devices for a variety of purposes, ranging from monitoring blood pressure to dispensing medications. It is the responsibility of the healthcare provider to interpret all of the data these devices provide to monitor the patient. However, there is a constant threat the one or more of these devices could be compromised without the provider’s knowledge.

Venkatasubramanian gives the example of the Echocardiogram (ECG), which measures the patient’s heart rate. It is possible for an outside party to mimic the signal produced by the device, and input their own data. The danger here, is that the healthcare provider may not realize if the patient is in need of medical care because the patient’s heart rate may not be correctly displayed.

It is important to have multiple devices that share information to be able to verify whether their output is correct. In the case of the ECG, the patient’s blood pressure could be used to confirm whether their ECG is correct. Venkatasubramanian likens this to how people may verify information every day. “Say that someone tells you Boynton Street is blocked. How do you corroborate that they are telling you the truth?  You find an alternate source…You ask other people. That is essentially the idea behind this.”