Why Are Health Data Leaking Online? Bad Software, Study Says

Hard-to-use software is behind the leakage of sensitive health data online, according to a study by Dartmouth researchers published in December.

Health documents with sensitive patient information can be found in “peer-to-peer” networks, which people typically use to share music files and the like. The programs used to navigate these networks often locate files on a user’s computer and share them–whether they’re music and videos or things like spreadsheets with health data. The issue can arise when health workers transfer data from firms’ proprietary software to their home computers. If they or someone in their family uses file-sharing software, files can be picked up.

Over a two-week period in 2009, the researchers were able to find more than 200 files that contained identifying information such as name, address, date of birth, social security numbers, insurance numbers and health-related information. It’s not much compared with the vast number of files in these networks, but it presents a big risk–for health companies as well as patients.

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