A recent article reports that a computer virus compromised thousands of patient records belonging to a Canadian hospital. The virus attacked Netcare, Alberta Health Service’s electronic health record earlier this year. The virus was Trojan horse similar to Coreflood, which aims to steal data and send it over the internet to a hacker.

The hospital was able to remove the virus once it was detected. They do not believe the Netcare system itself was compromised; rather it seems the virus accessed data through an infected client computer. Although the hospital is not sure any data was actually stolen, they notified over 11,000 patients whose information may have been leaked.

Despite media coverage, public awareness, and complex information security laws like the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), computer viruses are still a problem. Viruses and other malicious software are a threat to any business, but the healthcare industry should be especially vigilant because medical data is so sensitive.

No system can be 100% safe against viruses and malicious software. However, there are some simple precautions you can take. First and most important, be sure every computer at your office is running antivirus software. Be sure that your antivirus is set to auto-update everyday and scan every night if possible. AVG has great software that will protect against viruses as well as spyware.

Second, make sure your computer is protected by a firewall. Firewalls help block unwanted traffic, and they can prevent viruses from getting to your computer. Any Windows computer running XP Service Pack 2 or later has a built-in firewall. There are many third-party firewalls available as a stand-alone program, or built into antivirus suites. Whichever firewall you use, make sure it denies any connections you don’t explicitly approve.

Third, make sure your computer automatically updates. Keeping your software current is critical because updates can fix vulnerabilities in the software that viruses or hackers can exploit. You can set Windows to automatically download and install updates for you. In most cases, your computer will restart itself, and you won’t have to do anything.

Finally, don’t let the threat of viruses and malicious software discourage you from purchasing an electronic medical record or using computers at your office. Although you should be concerned about the security of your patient’s data, observing these simple precautions should keep you safe. Electronic medical records and computers offer tremendous benefits to your practice that far outweigh the risks of viruses.

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Ryan Ricks

Security Officer