The latest iPad sold 3 million units within the first three days of its commercial release on March 16, according to Apple. And its growing presence brings the increased risk of breaches, especially in healthcare.
Nonetheless, Christina Thielst, vice president at Tower Strategies and author of the blog Christina's Considerations, believes there are benefits to be had from discussing simple ways to not only protect, but also optimize your iPad.
"This is important because of the rise in data breaches, the rise in the risks, and the rapid increase in malicious attacks," she said. "It's why we have to talk about it rather than not worry."
Thielst helped outline 10 simple ways to secure and optimize your iPad.
1. Use the password, auto-lock, and auto-erase functions smartly. Although they may seem routine, said Theilst, these simple functions can make all the difference if an iPad becomes lost or stolen. "So let's say you're a doctor and you have an iPad, and you have some confidential information on it," she explained. "The way it's set up, you can select how many attempts you want [to put in your password] – 10, or whatever you feel comfortable with – and it would auto-erase the data on the iPad if someone tried guessing your password or tried getting into it." Thielst added that when organizations begin rolling out their tablet or smartphone programs, they should consider connecting all the devices to the IT department. "Even if they're allowing people to bring their own [devices] in, they need to have safeguards in place," she said. "So if they're stolen, they can remotely auto-wipe the device."
2. Limit access to confidential information to that on VPNs when in a public place or on unsecured networks, and disable the Bluetooth function after use. Thielst prefaced her point by mentioning the number of breaches and class-action lawsuits that are taking place as a result of unsecure devices. "The reason it's becoming more of an issue is because of the rise in malicious attacks," she said. "These are people who are actively trying to turn it into money…it could be medical identity theft or financial. There was one recent case where someone used information because his wife didn't have healthcare coverage; she acted as this patient to receive her healthcare. It's because of these malicious attacks that we have to be careful." So, she said, be wary of public or unsecured networks and keeping your Bluetooth on after using it. "You're sending out waves, and they can use it to get into your device," she said. "If there's anything you're not actively using, it's better to shut it down."
3. Permanently mark or engrave your iPad to help with identification. "This is something fairly simple," said Thielst, but it can be helpful if an iPad is lost or stolen. "Maybe it's accidental and it gets mixed up with someone else's," she said. "It's an easy way to see it's yours." When it comes to including information other than your name on the iPad, Thielst said you should use whatever you feel most comfortable with. "Maybe a phone number…it depends how much you want to share, and you have to think it through. How do you want people to get in touch with you if your iPad is lost? Having your name and a number of the back is an easy way for them to return it."
4. Consider cases with tethered locks. Tablets are great educational tools for patients, said Thielst, "but you can't just give a patient a tablet," she said. "Things have a habit of walking away. Even if you're using them in a facility and it's not with a patient but on the nursing station or something, you want to secure these things." Thielst recommended cases that come with a tethered lock, similar to those for bicycles. "There's a cable and there's a lock on it, so you can physically loop it around the side rail of a bed, for example," she said. And the same can be done at the nurses' station. "So it doesn't disappear," she said. "Things, unfortunately, in hospitals, tend to disappear."
5. Only download apps and open files from trusted sources. Although the Apple store is an obvious safe choice, Thielst said there's nothing stopping users from visiting various sites and downloading apps as well. However, she said, "I heard recently Continua is starting to certify medical apps…they certified their first one, so if that materializes and you have this body that's certifying medical apps, I think that's good." She said she approaches any type of download with caution, to minimize the risk, "rather than expecting someone else to handle it for me," she said. "I think it goes back to your approach as a regular consumer. I could probably feel fairly comfortable I'm not going to have a problem with it, but if I start having a lot of health information on my tablet, and I'm a doctor, that's where the risk increases."