What are the most concerning threats to health communities the internet?

Cyber Threats to online communities can impact health and privacy of group members. Here are the top priority cybersecurity and privacy issues that are creating problems for online support communities:

1. Privacy Breaches 

Online Health Communities need to be able to trust that the information shared in a group stays within a group.  Group members and leaders need to have their decisions about privacy respected.

Some privacy breaches are the result of cybersecurity attacks. Others are due to fraudulent behavior by platform administrators. Some breaches happen due to honest mistakes. But privacy breaches have had dire consequences.

2.  Medical Misinformation

One of the greatest values of online peer support is gathering knowledge and experience from peers who have a shared identity.  But “misinformation attacks” are becoming more common, making it more difficult for communities to maintain high-quality information resources for their communities. Online Health Communities need support to identify medical misinformation, and to support respectful debate and dialogue in a way that meets people where they are. Sometimes this means providing access to existing evidence, and sometimes this means creating new sources of reliable evidence for issues that are not well-studied by the Medical community.

3.  Targeted Harassment

Online health communities need to be equipped to moderate disagreements among group members.  These communities also to protect themselves from trolling, doxxing, and harassment from malicious actors who target a vulnerable group with the intent to cause harm to members.

1.  Identify

2.  Protect

3.  Detect

4. Respond

5.  Recover

Embracing evidence-based cyber security practices.

Health communities online need to be equipped to handle emerging threats.  To empower these communities, we are applying basic principles of cybersecurity develop resources and tools.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework10 lists 5 core cybersecurity functions: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. All of these functions are readily applicable to online health communities.

The Light Collective embraces the use of white hat techniques to confront threats to health communities online. Principles like responsible disclosure are critical to ensuring that patients and patient communities are protected online.

The Evidence + Advanced Reading

1.  Report On Improving Cybersecurity in The Health Care Industry

This report was developed by the Health Care Cybersecurity Task Force in June 2017.

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2.  Employ Cybersecurity Techniques Against the Threat of Medical Misinformation

Perakslis E, Califf RM. Employ Cybersecurity Techniques Against the Threat of Medical Misinformation. JAMA. Published online June 14, 2019. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.6857

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3.  Weaponized Communication:  Twitter Bots and Vaccine Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate

Broniatowski DA, Jamison AM, Qi S, et al. Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate. Am J Public Health. 2018;108(10):1378–1384. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2018.304567

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4.  How a Facebook Group of Sexual Assault Survivors Became a Tool For Harassment

When governance and privacy controls are not in place, a group can be used for blackmail and harassment.  This is an example of what closed support groups online need to be equipped to protect their members from.

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Look Inside

Download & Share:  How to apply the 5 pillars of Cyber Security to Protect your Group From Hackers and Snoopers.

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Although some in the medical profession grasp the scope and severity of this threat and have appropriately sounded an alarm, health professionals, for the most part, professional societies, and relevant government entities have been slow to address this issue.

- Eric Perakslis, PhD & Robert M. CaliffJAMA June 14 2019