Success of wireless networking in hospitals threatened by vulnerable security

San Jose 14 May 2002Wireless technology has finally made its way into the hospital environment. However, data security issues have forced health care facilities to rethink the prudence of investing in mobile telecommunications systems. New analysis from Frost & Sullivan in a study called Wireless Local Area Network Markets for U.S. Hospitals, reveals this industry generated revenues exceeding $193 million in 2001 and is projected to near $295 million by 2005.

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"With concerns of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) firmly taking root in the hospital setting, wireless vendors must prove conclusively that their equipment will not be the weak link in the security infrastructure. Health centres have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in commercial clinical and security systems, and administrators are especially anxious to avoid breaches", stated Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Amith Viswanathan.

Comprising over 90 percent of all new wireless local area network (WLAN) installations in 2001, the 802.11b standard has become the format of choice within the hospital segment. Network unit sales in this market continue to be brisk into 2002, with a noticeable demand increase for newly released 802.11a chipset-equipped hardware. However, new research points to the vulnerability of next-generation security protocols within the 802.11 standard, such as 802.1x.

"If follow-up studies confirm holes in the 802.1x architecture, WLAN technology may experience a sharp downturn in demand from the health care industry. HIPAA concerns still plague this sector, and any rumour of data insecurity may be cause for a full-scale reversal of interest", warned Mr. Viswanathan.

The sensitive nature of patient medical records has made information protection a genuine concern among buyers of 802.11b products. Currently, the only native wireless encryption system that exists to safeguard data during transmission is the wireless equivalent protocol (WEP) which utilises basic access control mechanisms such as user authentication keys. The reported design flaws in WEP architecture are now forcing 802.11 working group committees to consider viable add-on encryption schemes for the ultimate goal of a secure WLAN environment.

More information about the Frost & Sullivan Wireless Local Area Network Markets for U.S. Hospitals report is available from Kristi Grier.


Leslie Versweyveld

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