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Health & Wellness

How to Protect Your Health Information Online

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Protecting the personal information you share online is more important than ever before.

Many of us have read about recent security breaches that have affected millions, if not billions worldwide. And nowhere is vigilance more critical than when it comes to our health information. This data can be used illegally for identify theft and by scammers selling fake cures and treatments for all sorts of health conditions.

“Healthcare information can often be even more valuable on the ‘black market’ than financial information,” says John Krautheim, Ph.D., a professor at Georgia’s Augusta University Cyber Institute.

“Make no mistake, we’re all vulnerable to having the personal information we share online stolen.”

Dr. Krautheim has decades of experience as a cybersecurity expert, but even he has been the victim of a massive data breach at a credit reporting agency – a reminder that it can happen to anyone at any time.

There are easy steps all of us can take to keep our online health information more secure.

Check with your healthcare provider before you offer information online.

In email scams, imposters may pose as your doctor’s office and ask for information like your social security number. Before you share that info call your healthcare provider to confirm they’ve sent the email. “Criminal hackers may use an email address that look similar to that of a medical practice or hospital,” Krautheim says. “Never click on a link until you are absolutely sure it’s legitimate, or you run the risk of having malware installed on your computer or device that will give these hackers access to all your private information.”

Be prepared: at your next appointment with a healthcare provider, ask how they’ll communicate with you to request information or schedule appointments.

Don’t overshare on social media.

“By definition social media is not private,” Krautheim says. That means the news you post about medical conditions, treatments and concerns can be mined by companies trying to sell you products that might not be legitimate. The information can also be used by hackers to create a profile about you that they can use in identity theft.

Be cautious: If you are sharing health news on social media platforms, be sure to use strict privacy settings to restrict who’s seeing your posts.

Choose strong passwords.

It might be easy to remember a password that’s the name of your grandchild and her date of birth or your pet’s name. But those are also easy for illegal hackers to guess, too. The Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information website suggests coming up with a special sentence and using the first letter of each word as your password.

Be clever: To make a password even stronger, substitute numbers for some words or letters. “For example, ‘I want to see the Pacific Ocean’ could become 1W2CtPo.”

Use public Wi-Fi or computers with caution.

Public wireless networks in airports, coffee shops, hotels and libraries may be convenience, but they might also make the private information you share vulnerable to being intercepted.

Be reserved:  It’s best to send personal health information and log onto your healthcare accounts only from the security of your own home or that of a friend or family member.

Transmit personal information only on websites that are secure.

A “padlock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser tells you the website is encrypted, placing a protective wall around the information you’re sending.

Be sure: Never share any personal information on a website that doesn’t display a secure icon.

Stay up to date on security.

Don’t ignore the notifications you receive on your computer and electronic devices letting you know that a software update is available. These often contain patches that offer protection against new security threats.

Be current:  “It’s always a good idea to install software updates,” Krautheim says. “You don’t have control over the security practices your doctor’s office or insurance company follows, but keeping your software current is something you can control and it will help keep your health information safer.”

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