File-Sharing Software Potential Threat to Health Privacy

The personal health and financial information stored in thousands of North American home computers may be vulnerable to theft through file-sharing software, according to a research study published online in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

Healthcare professionals who take patient information home to personal computers containing peer-to-peer file-sharing software are jeopardizing patient confidentiality, note the authors of the study.

“Computer users may be unaware that sensitive information in their personal files on their personal computers can be exposed to other users, because some vendors use software containing dangerous sharing features,” says Prof. Khaled El Emam, Canada Research Chair in Electronic Health Information and lead author of the study.

El Emam’s CHEO team used popular file sharing software to gain access to documents they downloaded from a representative sample of IP addresses. They were able to access the personal and identifying health and financial information of individuals in Canada and the United States. The research for the study was approved by the CHEO ethics board. Continue reading.

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