How to Keep Healthtech Projects Secure

February 10, 2023 • 179 Views • 13 min read

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Bohdan Vasylkiv

CEO & Co-Founder

Whenever it comes to any software project, security matters. To rephrase it, security shapes the application's functionality and directly impacts its overall usability and possibility. Moreover, the higher the security level is - the more user-friendly the application is, and users will more likely to choose the safest application among all the alternatives. Especially, if the application requires sensitive data to work correctly. For instance, healthcare sector products highly rely on such type of data.

They can ask you to allow tracking your geolocation, if we are talking about various fitness applications, or request medical records, in case of more specified medical apps. In other words, it is possible to assume, that there are barely any healthcare apps, which are providing full-fledged functionality without having access to the sensitive data of their users.

This is why healthcare cybersecurity measures are an essential part of developing such software. Frankly, the debates on how to prevent data breaches in healthcare still can be considered unsolved. The plurality of possible healthcare cybersecurity measures, as well as the list of other ways to avoid various software vulnerabilities, is surprisingly big. As a result, it is almost impossible to choose an ultimate solution, which will work in each case. Instead, it is recommended to pay more attention to the context and choose the tech stack and security measures in accordance with the specifics of each case. To do so, you will need to decide the type of your healthcare app and the required data first.

Types of Healthtech Projects Explained

Frankly, it is impossible to list all the types of healthcare development projects. However, we can define the main ones. First of all, you should divide Healthcare apps into two different types:

  • Lifestyle and Healthcare apps
  • Specified Medical Applications

The main difference between Lifestyle vs mHeath applications is the usage purpose. The first type is primarily related to well-being and staying fit. Here we can name various applications for fitness, personal training, diet, and other healthy lifestyle cases.

At the same time, medical applications are directly linked to the healthcare industry and provide specific medicational features. For instance, this can be a special application for telemedicine, or Medical Practice Management Software (MPMS), it may be used for making online doctor appointments, sharing patient data such as prescriptions online, storing information and the results of medical tests, etc.

Consequently, the access to vulnerable information about the users differs for each type. Additionally, it can vary, depending on the subtype of the healthcare app: fitness tracker will most likely require your physical parameters like height, weight, and age, while diet apps will require information about your allergies, food intolerance, preferences, etc. At the same time, mHealth applications work with much more personal data, including general information about the user like name, surname, credit card, and medical data.

Nonetheless, as we can see, the most vulnerable and valuable part of any healthcare app - is data about its users. Thus, the main purpose of implementing cybersecurity measures during the healthcare development stage - is to prevent general and medical data breaches.

How to Prevent Data Breaches in Healthcare?

Frankly, apart from some specific medical security policies, dictated by law and various regulations, there are also countless helpful lists and guides from the software development sphere. The combination of these policies and software development protection guides gives myriad ways how to ensure the overall safety of health tech projects.

Why Choose Cybersecurity Measures Over Law Regulations?

However, we believe it is better to concentrate more on software safety solutions instead of governmental regulations due to the fact, that they are more flexible and specific, and can be applied to any software. At the same moment, most law regulations differ from each other, depending on the specifics of the country, its region, or international organizations. For instance, General Data Protection Regulation is obligatory for the applications, which have access to the personal information of EU citizens and requires such apps to sign DPA agreements before sharing such vulnerable data with third parties. Simultaneously, there are local solutions like the National Health Service from the United Kingdom with its list of government-approved medical applications(which was decommissioned in 2021). Do not also forget about Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or simply HIPAA.

It will be almost impossible to create a guide on healthcare cybersecurity, which will include the context of each local and international principle and practice. But what are the IT solutions then? Actually, we can divide them into a few blocks:

  • Third-party software, designed specifically for improving security levels,
  • Specific hardware and approaches to use it,
  • Contracts, agreements, and community-shared best practices.

Therefore, let’s briefly examine each group and figure out how they work.

Best Cybersecurity Measures by Groups

Law Regulations and Agreements

First of all, you should definitely sign additional agreements with the developers, no matter whether it is an in-house or dedicated team. This will give you a legal basis, which will guarantee both sides that their interests will be included.

Do not consider contracts and agreements as limitations, and do not underestimate their role. Judging from our experience, the most successful and correctly working security policies are the ones, which are implemented far before the actual development starts, i.e. all these bureaucratic procedures and documents have a crucial yet sometimes unseen role.

Anyway, such bureaucracy is a mandatory step to make in most cases. So, to make it easier, try to gather all the needed documents and sign them at once. Such documents like Non-disclosure and Data processing agreements have already become must-have options for any software project. Still, they are not the only ones. As a matter of fact, there are lots of similar contracts, which can be a great addition to your final list of papers, even if it will take some time to research.

Specific Hardware

Another important step is to ensure the safety of the development environment and secure this process as much as possible. There is a wide range of distinctive approaches to do so.

One of the most recommended solutions is to create a closed environment, using specialized software and own hardware. For example, by providing your developers with corporate laptops, which have limited administrator credentials, making it impossible to upload and install unauthorized applications or even files. Also, you can use virtual private networks and gateways, making it impossible to connect the servers or other online resources without having the data about the in and out IPs. As a result, it will be much easier to avoid medical data breaches and other potential threats.

However, it is not enough to ensure the best possible result. A closed hardware-based development ecosystem is a great benefit, yet it means nothing if not combined with software solutions.

Third-Party Software

Eventually, think about adding certain third-party software and applications, designed for improved security, while considering the tech stack for medical app development.

It includes antiviruses, and special apps, capable of limiting the functionality of the hardware or restricting access, setting the VPN and VPG, etc. Despite the fact, that the variety of such software is countless, even if we will talk only about specified health tech projects. So, the possible proposals and services highly depend on your requirements and goals.

Apart from such cybersecurity measures, you can also examine different guides on the topic, manuals, and other useful resources with free access. Probably the most well-known example of such additional documentation is the OWASP list. It is an organization, which publishes a list of the most common and spread security threats and vulnerabilities like injection attacks, critical data disclosure (in our case - medical data breaches), broken access control, and many others.

In fact, the content of this list constantly changes, depending on the actual situation. Still, it is not the only such list. For instance, we can also name the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures list (CVE) and National Vulnerability Database (NVD). All the foregoing documents and initiatives not only keep records of possible security threats but regularly publish guides and advice on how to deal with them, explaining possible exploits and mistakes you can not notice during the healthcare development stage.

End Line

Regardless of all potential security threats and vulnerabilities, probably the most vulnerable element of any health tech project is personal and medical data breaches, regardless of whether it is a simple healthcare application, designed for improving personal health, well-being, and lifestyle, or a medical application for certain purposes.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways how to prevent such unpleasant processes and improve healthcare cybersecurity. Yet, the need to ensure high-level security standards is not just about user satisfaction but is defined by law on different ranks, starting with local decrees, and ending up with recommendations and requirements of international healthcare organizations.

Finally, due to the variability of choice and different software guidelines, the security tech stack may range, depending on a specific case. To make it simple, the only right way to develop a secure health tech project - is to define it first. After you understood the main goals of your next healthcare app and choose the needed technologies, you can also prognosis the possible vulnerabilities and threats, which will highly depend on the tech stack.

The easier way to better understand which technologies to choose and what possible exposures and drawbacks they can bring to your project - examine case studies of other software development teams first.

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