New THaW Patent

The THaW team is pleased to announce one new patent derived from THaW research. For the complete list of patents, visit our Tech Transfer page.

Abstract: Apparatuses that provide for secure wireless communications between wireless devices under cover of one or more jamming signals. Each such apparatus includes at least one data antenna and at least one jamming antenna. During secure-communications operations, the apparatus transmits a data signal containing desired data via the at least one data antenna while also at least partially simultaneously transmitting a jamming signal via the at least one jamming antenna. When a target antenna of a target device is in close proximity to the data antenna and is closer to the data antenna than to the jamming antenna, the target device can successfully receive the desired data contained in the data signal because the data signal is sufficiently stronger than the jamming signal within a finite secure-communications envelope due to the Inverse Square Law of signal propagation. Various related methods and machine-executable instructions are also disclosed.

Image describes the steps to ensure secure wireless data transfer between devices.

Timothy J. Pierson, Ronald Peterson, and David Kotz. Apparatuses, Methods, and Software For Secure Short-Range Wireless Communication. U.S. Patent 11,153,026, October 19, 2021. Download from

See also: Timothy J. Pierson, Travis Peters, Ronald Peterson, and David Kotz. CloseTalker: secure, short-range ad hoc wireless communication. Proceedings of the ACM International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications, and Services (MobiSys), pages 340–352. ACM, June 2019. doi:10.1145/3307334.3326100. [Details]

THaW’s Eric Johnson on recent health system cyberattacks

Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson, PhD and dean of Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management

Cyberattacks targeting healthcare systems have been growing in prevalence and are wreaking more havoc with the healthcare industry’s increased dependence on electronic systems. Cyberattacks such as denial-of-service attacks, can have immediate impact on patient care by leaving medical staff without important patient records. The impacts don’t end there. With healthcare systems increasing their cybersecurity protocols in the aftermath of a cyberattack, patient information can be harder to access for those who should be accessing that information. Johnson’s research with co-author S.J. Choi, PhD, shows that at hospitals where security protocols slowed computer access by just a minute or so, people who came in with a heart attack were more likely to die. “When I talk to doctors about security, a lot of times they’re very negative,” Johnson said. “So they’re pretty far behind, and at this point, incredibly vulnerable.” It’s certainly not a stretch, Johnson says, to say that delays from a ransomware attack are likely to have more serious effects.

To read more about the recent cyberattacks on healthcare systems and coverage of THaW research on those topics, check out the THaW press page.

New THaW Paper on Recurring Device Verification

An IoT device user with a blood-pressure monitoring device should have the assurance that the device operates how a blood-pressure monitor should operate. If the monitor is connected to a measurement app that collects, stores, and reports data, but interacts in a way that is inconsistent with typical interactions for this type of device, there may be cause for concern. The reality of ubiquitous connectivity and frequent mobility gives rise to a myriad of opportunities for devices to be compromised. Thus, we argue that one-time, single-factor, device-to-device authentication (i.e., an initial pairing) is not enough, and that there must exist some mechanism to frequently (re-)verify the authenticity of devices and their connections.

In this paper we propose a device-to-device recurring authentication scheme – Verification of Interaction Authenticity (VIA) – that is based on evaluating characteristics of the communications (interactions) between devices. We adapt techniques from wireless traffic analysis and intrusion detection systems to develop behavioral models that capture typical, authentic device interactions (behavior); these models enable recurring verification of device behavior. 

To read more, check out the paper here.

Travis Peters, Timothy J. Pierson, Sougata Sen, José Camacho, and David Kotz. Recurring Verification of Interaction Authenticity Within Bluetooth Networks. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in Wireless and Mobile Networks (WiSec 2021), pages 192–203. ACM, June 2021. doi:10.1145/3448300.3468287. ©

Meaningful healthcare security

Juhee Kwon and Eric Johnson recently published an article aimed at the question Does “meaningful-use” attestation improve information security performance? 

Certification mechanisms are often employed to assess and signal difficult-to-observe management practices and foster improvement. In the U.S. healthcare sector, a certification mechanism called meaningful-use attestation was recently adopted as part of an effort to encourage electronic health record (EHR) adoption while also focusing healthcare providers on protecting sensitive healthcare data. This new regime motivated us to examine how meaningful-use attestation influences the occurrence of data breaches. Using a propensity score matching technique combined with a difference-in-differences (DID) approach, our study shows that the impact of meaningful-use attestation is contingent on the nature of data breaches and the time frame. Hospitals that attest to having reached Stage 1 meaningful-use standards observe fewer external breaches in the short term, but do not see continued improvement in the following year. On the other hand, attesting hospitals observe short-term increases in accidental internal breaches but eventually see long-term reductions. We do not find any link between malicious internal breaches and attestation. Our findings offer theoretical and practical insights into the effective design of certification mechanisms.

The full paper appears in in MIS Quarterly. Vol. 42, No. 4 (December), 1043-1067, 2018. DOI: 10.25300/MISQ/2018/13580


THaW paper at CIST (INFORMS)

THaW professor Eric Johnson (Vanderbilt) recently presented a new paper at the Conference on Information Systems and Technology (CIST), a division of INFORMS.

See the video abstract. A full version of the paper is under review at a journal.

Meaningful healthcare security: Does “Meaningful-use” attestation improve information security performance?
Juhee Kwon and M. Eric Johnson
Certification mechanisms are often employed to signal performance of difficult-to-observe management practices. In the healthcare sector, financial incentives linked to “meaningful-use” attestation have been a key policy initiative of the Obama administration to accelerate electronic health record (EHR) adoption while also focusing healthcare providers on protecting sensitive healthcare data. Given the rapid push for safe digitization of patient data, this study examines how hospital attestation influences the occurrence of subsequent data breaches and also how breach performance is associated with penalties from prior breaches. Using a propensity score matching technique combined with a difference-in-differences approach, we analyze a matched sample of 869 U.S. hospitals. We find that hospitals that attest to having reached Stage-1 meaningful-use standards observe reduced external breaches in the short term, but do not see continued improvement in the following year. On the other hand, attesting hospitals observe short-term increases in accidental internal breaches, but eventually see longer-term reductions. We do not find any link between malicious internal breaches and attestation. Further, we find that the interaction between meaningful-use attestation (carrot) and prior failure resulting in penalties (stick) enhances short-term reductions of accidental internal and external breaches. Our findings offer both theoretical and practical insights into the effective design of certification mechanisms and breach regulations.

Hospitals Must Develop IT Security Plans To Avoid Target’s Fate

In a recent study examining data from 243 hospitals, THaW researcher Eric Johnson found that while compliance with state and federal IT security mandates like HIPAA helps the worst hospitals protect patient information better, organizations that maintain and regularly update a security plan get far more from their security investments. Eric defines these organizations as “operationally mature.” These strategic plans — along with periodic reviews — enable organizations to learn of potential new risks and evaluate their own security posture. As a consequence, organizations’ security resources are better targeted to address their specific needs and the environments in which they operate. Eric’s results show that the impact of security investments varies depending on the operational maturity of the organization.

Read more about this study and its results in Eric’s blog. The study was funded by an earlier NSF grant on Trustworthy Information Systems for Healthcare.

Five trends in healthcare IT – and their implications for security

In the previous post we described the current landscape for healthcare information technology. In this post, we note how healthcare information systems increasingly face daunting security challenges due to five economic and technological trends. First, the locus of care is shifting, as the healthcare system seeks more efficient and less-expensive ways to care for patients, particularly outpatients with chronic conditions. Second, strong economic incentives are pushing health providers to innovate by rewarding providers for keeping their patient population healthy, rather than paying only to fix patients when they are ill. Third, the treatment of chronic conditions and the implementation of prevention plans entail more continuous patient monitoring, outside of the clinical setting. Fourth, mobile consumer devices (smartphones and tablets) are quickly being adopted for health & wellness applications, both by caregivers and patients, in addition to their many other uses – making it difficult to protect sensitive health-related data and functions from the risks posed by a general-purpose Internet device. Finally, significant emerging threats are targeting healthcare information systems, while new regulations strive to protect medical integrity and patient privacy. Let’s look at each of these five trends in more detail.

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The healthcare IT landscape

The United States spends over $2.6 trillion annually on healthcare. This amount represents approximately 18% of the gross domestic product (GDP), a percentage that has doubled in the last 30 years and is the highest of any country in the world [11]. Over 75% of these costs are due to the management of chronic diseases, which currently affects 45% of the U.S. population. By 2023, it is expected that costs to manage chronic diseases alone will rise to $4.2 trillion [3]. Many look to information technology to help reduce costs, increase efficiency, broaden access to healthcare, and improve the health of the population.

Meanwhile, recent years have seen a dramatic shift in the nature of computing with the advent of smartphones and tablet computers; the latest surveys estimate that over 50% of Americans have smartphones [10]. This wide-spread availability of a powerful mobile computing platform, with a rich interface and a variety of built-in sensors, has created a boom in mobile health (mHealth) applications like RunKeeper and Fooducate [9]; mHealth application downloads increased from 124 million in 2011 to 247 million in 2012 [8]. These mHealth apps and devices are becoming more prevalent due in part to the rising cost of healthcare and their suitability for managing chronic diseases, particularly in the aging population [5, 6], and in prevention and wellness programs [1].

Smartphones and tablets are rapidly moving into the clinical workplace as well. A recent estimate indicates that as many as 62% of doctors use mobile tablets [4]. Although some hospitals embrace smartphones and tablets by distributing them to their staff [7], a 2012 survey found that 85% of hospitals allow their clinicians to bring their own device to work [2].

Furthermore, universal connectivity (cellular, wireless, and home broadband) has enabled a tremendous variety of services to move to the “cloud.” Services like Dropbox and Google Drive make it easy for individuals to store, manipulate, and share content on cloud servers located in distant data centers. Services like Amazon S3 and Google App Engine make it easy for developers to build scalable computational backends without installing or managing their own infrastructure. These trends are pushing more individuals and enterprises to push an increasing fraction of their computing into Internet-connected servers run by other organizations – raising important questions about security and privacy.

Finally, recent years have seen rapid developments in smart, miniaturized, low-power, adaptive and self-calibrating instrumentation, enabling the emergence of mobile devices for monitoring and managing individual health conditions; examples range from wearable devices that measure physical activity (such as the BodyMedia armband) to Wi-Fi enabled bathroom scales (such as those from Withings or Fitbit) to stick-on ECG patches to monitor heart conditions (such as those from Corventis) to implanted insulin pumps (such as one from Medtronic). Most are wireless, able to upload data to a smartphone or to a cloud server for analysis and access by both the individual and caregivers.

The dynamic healthcare ecosystem and rapid technology evolution lead to new challenges in securing tomorrow’s healthcare information infrastructure. More on that in the next post!

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