Wearable technologies are on track to be a $6-billion industry by 2016. But despite the potential mHealth, wearable sensing, and telemedicine applications hold, such wireless medical technologies also pose significant vulnerabilities to patients in terms of security and privacy. Aiming to prevent hacking and privacy breaches, a team of researchers from Dartmouth College (Hanover NH) and Myongji University (South Korea) have proposed the development of a wrist-worn platform dubbed the Amulet that provides continuous sensing and actuation with minimal reliance on wireless gateways for connectivity.
The cornerstones of optimal, patient-centric mHealth products are that they ensure data confidentiality, data integrity, data authenticity, data availability, and command authenticity and integrity, according to the scientists' research paper, "An Amulet for Trustworthy Wearable mHealth." They should, the paper notes, also protect patient anonymity to nonclinicians or emergency personnel, and support interoperability, modularity, and ease of use. These comprehensive specifications and essential needs, however, are unmet by current designs, the researchers state.
"To reach their full potential in transforming healthcare, wearable networks of sensors and actuators must be able to operate continuously and securely without relying on mobile phones and other nonwearable personal computing devices. We need a personal device that is with the user at all times, can authenticate its wearer, can be secured independently of other apps on the mobile phone or home computer, can provide a trustworthy interface to the user, and support mHealth devices with computation and a network link to the mobile phone or other Internet gateway," the researchers state in the paper.
Intended to meet these criteria, the Amulet mHealth architecture is designed as a bracelet-type device worn by the patient that is synced up to wireless devices or apps and mediates communication while minimizing security risks. Although critical factors such as usability, interoperability, and emergency access are addressed with the system, security features are among the Amulet's primary advantages.
"The Amulet provides complete (physical) isolation between general-purpose applications, running on the mobile phone, and critical applications, running on the Amulet," according to the researchers. "With appropriate hardware support, the Amulet could provide strong isolation between individual apps. In contrast, today’s phones are complex multipurpose computing platforms that host a variety of applications provided by different sources, some of whom the patient may not trust. This makes them susceptible to malware and other software-based attacks."
Although a number of design and development challenges must be overcome before the Amulet is effectively realized, the researchers are optimistic about the device's potential. Read more about the proposed device in the associated research paper.