Don’t curse the darkness

I was recently made aware of an email that’s going around warning people that their free flashlight app is stealing their personal data (banking information, photos, videos, etc) and sending it to cybercriminals in India, China, and Russia.  I found this information hard to believe, so I did a bit of research.

Andrew Clarke

First I looked at a video of the news report that apparently started this whole thing.  It involved someone from a cyber security company being interviewed.  What immediately jumped out at me, although he did not make it clear, was the fact that the apps being discussed were primarily those available for download for Android phones.  As far as I can tell, the built-in flashlight in your iPhone seems to be safe.  Android apps might prove to be more susceptible to exploitation because apps for Android phones, unlike apps for iPhones, can be obtained from multiple sources. Apple tightly controls which apps can be installed on the devices they manufacture.  If an Android user wants to install an app obtained outside of the Play Store, all he or she has to do is change a security setting allowing this activity.  No such setting exists on the iPhone.  He also didn’t mention that any app, not just free flashlight apps, could be used in such a manner.

All apps can request permission to certain parts of your phone (photos, address book, etc).  A lot of apps request access when it makes no sense.  For example, it makes sense that a wifi phone app would ask for access to your contacts.  Why would a flashlight app need such access?  That being said, just because the access is requested doesn’t mean it’s being used for some criminal purpose.  As pointed out by the writer of a Snopes article on the subject (www.snopes.com/computer/internet/flashlight.asp), if you’re using a free app it is entirely possible that information about you is being collected and sold for marketing purposes.

Before you think that iPhone apps are immune to such use, you need to make sure you pay attention to what permissions are being given to those apps as well.  The iPhone maintains this information in the Privacy area of its settings.  There you can deny or grant access to various information stored on your phone.

This  is a good place to remind you to turn off location services for your camera if it’s on.  Such access allows “the bad guys” to figure out where each of your pictures was taken.  If you post pictures on Facebook, such information can allow criminals to know when you’re on vacation, where you go to school, where your kids go to school, etc.  Programs exist that allow anyone to figure out your daily routine by using the pictures you post.

No matter what type of phone you have, you need to pay attention to the access being granted to any apps you install, free or otherwise.  As such, it’s best to have the smallest number of apps installed.  In this case, less is more … more secure, that is.

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GOP wins the Obamacare jackpot

The Supreme Court upheld Obamacare last week, handing a major win to Republicans.

It’s not a typo. The biggest winner in the Affordable Care Act ruling was the Republican Party, which dodged a bullet and picked up a golden opportunity all at the same time.

Tara Courtland

Communications Director Tara Courtland

How does that work? Like this:

Had the justices overturned Obamacare, millions of currently insured people would have lost their coverage. The Republicans, in control of both houses of Congress, would then be under tremendous pressure to do something; pressure increased by Democrats as an election year looms in the not-too-distant future.

Republicans, of course, don’t want to do anything. Healthcare reform is a political quagmire that was a messy, unpleasant and politically damaging business when it was passed the first time. Since then, it’s only gotten more politically dangerous so any politician tasked with fixing or changing it now is looking at political suicide.

Republicans are more than happy not to have found themselves in that position, facing millions of angry, suddenly-uninsured voters while being pushed by vocal Democrats reminding the public that it’s all their fault and all their responsibility to fix it, and at the same time, being monitored by their base threatening excommunication to anyone who compromises or strays from the conservative orthodoxy.

“Political disaster” would be putting it mildly.

But the GOP didn’t just avoid a bad situation – they’re also getting the chance to spin straw into gold.
The Supreme Court ruling means the Republicans don’t have to do anything AND they can complain about it. As the presidential election nears, they can use Obamacare in their campaign literature, in their ads and in their debates. They can rail against a hated program that they now have no chance of overturning — and as overturning it would mean they’d have to come up with a different solution, they are now safely in the heckler seats. They can throw rocks without being responsible for any alternatives. Even better, they can point out the importance of the presidential election in Supreme Court politics.

“You see?” the argument goes, “This is why you must elect a Republican for president — to ensure that the next few Supreme Court justices are chosen by a president who opposes such travesties as Obamacare!”

This is not just a Republican strategy thought up by cold-blooded (or right-thinking, depending on your point of view) GOP politicians. This is standard political science. In similar positions, Democrats have done the same things. In 2010 and 2011, for instance, Democrats were hit by a series of staggering losses on abortion and birth control. They spun it into gold by parlaying the losses into a brilliant series of campaign pieces painting Republicans as Haters Of Women just in time for the 2012 presidential election.

It worked well. And it’ll work well when Republicans use the same strategy in 2016 to springboard from an Obamacare loss toward an electoral victory.

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Listening to ALL the players

Back in the day, selling transcription services was a conversation that usually started and ended with the person who more often than not held the title of Medical Records Director.

Enter HITECH in 2009, fast forward to 2015 and the conversation, if you can even get one, is with a “committee of eight.” The group of eight, a number I’ve chosen arbitrarily, typically consists of a financial person, health information management, operations, and, of course, IT. IT frequently contributes to the agenda and nearly always controls the timetable.

NEMT CEO Linda Sullivan

Lee DeOrio, Editor of “For The Record” magazine, captured a very cogent and timely thought in the publication’s June issue entitled “Technology and Temptation.” It’s a must-read.

“Allied health professionals must do all they can to become part of these proposals. The reason is simple: Distinguished coding and HIM leaders won’t be fooled by technology’s allure. They’ll deconstruct documentation tools, take a stripped down approach to the drop-down menus, and suss out speech recognition to gauge whether any of it is worth the time and effort. Of course, theirs won’t be the final say, but to altogether ignore this constituency is just being ignorant.”

The “medical records director,” now the “health information management” individual, is still on the front lines of patient documentation. While IT, as Lee writes “is the sweetheart at the rodeo,” allied health professionals are in the trenches and working with day-to-day patient documentation issues. Their insights are vitally important; they should be heard.

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Audit yourself before the government does

Last year, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said it planned to audit 200 control entities and then follow up with 400 business associates in 2015. Officials there also said they had over 6,000 complaints last year. During an April 15, 2015 session at HIMSS, an official from the Department of Health and Human Services said that the next round of HIPAA audits is under development. There was no timeline given.

NEMT President Linda Allard

Since OCR had a change in leadership last year, there has been a lot of speculation concerning whether that is part of the reason the audits have not started yet. We all know it takes time for new leadership to settle in, and OCR does appear to be staffing up for the audit program. They are also anticipating 15,000 to 17,000 HIPAA complaints in 2015. While we wait to see when the audits will start, we need to learn from the last round of audits and be prepared.

The first round of audits found that most of those who were assessed didn’t conform to the HIPAA standards in three primary areas. They also showed that two-thirds of the covered entities had not performed a risk assessment.

The biggest reason these areas were not in compliance was because they were unaware. Given the amount of time that we all have while we wait, none of us should be “unaware” of any requirements. We all need to take this extra time to make sure we have done our risk analysis. Then we need to look at our risk analysis and perform the steps needed to clear up any issues we might have. If you haven’t reread all your policies since Omnibus, now is a great time to do it.

I know that for me, it’s easy to put things off when I have what appears to be a lot of time. Following a self-imposed schedule to make sure your HIPAA program has stayed up to standards could allow you the opportunity to find something that is wrong before the government does.

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Windows 10 is coming

Some of you have started seeing a popup concerning Windows 10.  Don’t panic.  Microsoft’s Marketing Machine (M3- I just made that up) is hard at work pushing the latest operating system upgrade, which is due to release on July 29, 2015.  No matter what you click, nothing will install right now.  They are just trying to get the word out that upgrading to Windows 10 will be free.  If you no longer want to see the upgrade notification, you can turn it off.  Click “Customize” in the System Tray and turn off the Get Windows 10 app notifications in the menu that comes up.

Andrew Clarke

Before you decide to upgrade, however, do your research.  Make sure all the programs and features you use will still be available.  Microsoft has already announced that some features will be removed if you upgrade.  The feature depreciation section of their specifications page shows the following:

  • If you have Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, Windows 8 Pro with Media Center, or Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center and you install Windows 10, Windows Media Center will be removed.
  • Watching DVDs requires separate playback software
  • Windows 7 desktop gadgets will be removed as part of installing Windows 10.
  • Windows 10 Home users will have updates from Windows Update automatically available. Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise users will have the ability to defer updates.
  • Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Hearts Games that come pre-installed on Windows 7 will be removed as part of installing the Windows 10 upgrade. Microsoft has released our version of Solitaire and Minesweeper called the “Microsoft Solitaire Collection” and “Microsoft Minesweeper.”
  • If you have a USB floppy drive, you will need to download the latest driver from Windows Update or from the manufacturer’s website.
  • If you have Windows Live Essentials installed on your system, the OneDrive application is removed and replaced with the inbox version of OneDrive.

Bear in mind that this list does not include any non-Microsoft software you might have, so make sure you check with each software vendor to ensure compatibility for software products you use.

For more information, visit Microsoft’s specifications page [http://www.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/windows-10-specifications].  Once you’re there, you can click on the Windows 10 menu item for an overview of Windows 10, Questions and Answers (Q&A), and information on how to upgrade.  The Q&A page also provides information for anyone who accidentally chose to reserve a copy of Windows 10, but now wants to change their mind.

My suggestion:  Aim for the leading edge, not the bleeding edge.  You don’t need to be the first to upgrade unless you absolutely hate the version of Windows you’re running now, and you know that you will still be able to work if you upgrade.  Otherwise just wait.

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