in HIPAA Headlines by John Brewer

In the process of accomplishing well over 100 risk assessments, one of the items that is often given “lip service” is wireless network security.

At its most basic level, securing a wireless network means assigning a password to the network so not-just-anybody can access the network.

Whether this be at the office or a staff members home, this is an important issue.

Among the security related issues, I like to stress the fact that when a wireless network is not secured, anybody can pull up in front of your office or home and use your internet access…potentially gaining access to private files on your network.

Many times the response is somewhat of a “free love” mentality, “it is just the internet” I’ve been told.  Plus, I’ve been told that giving access to guests is a pain, so they just open it up to everyone.

A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek about a company named Devicescape really helps highlight this subject.

Basically this company scans for, discovers, then adds to their database unsecured wireless networks “…that have either intentionally made them available to the public or not gotten around to setting up a password to keep out freeloaders.”

Their database is currently at 8 million unsecured wireless routers.


Devicescape’s CEO says “There’s a huge network that’s been hiding in plain sight…Why not use it?”

This huge network is potentially your office and/or home network.  Later in the article the company attempts to clarify that they don’t tap into residential Wi-Fi systems…but I’m skeptical if this statement.

This goes back to the issue well beyond the obvious security problems: when unauthorized users access your wireless network, they are using resources that you pay for.  No matter how many times your internet provider says you have unlimited internet access, there is a limit.

Add to this, your internet “pipe” is of a finite size, so if unknown to you there are 10, 15, 20 extra users downloading videos etc, how much do you think that will slow down your internet based EHR?

The moral of this story is: secure your wireless network at the office and at home.  Also conduct a Wi-Fi scan at least once a year to ensure you know exactly what is going on at your office.

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