When most of us were kids, a trip to the school nurse involved nothing more high tech than a thermometer. But today's students live in a digital world, and soon wireless networks, cryptography, and biometric identification will all help to make them feel better, thanks to a pilot project that aims to provide secure student health records.
The project, coordinated by Affinitex, the health-care division of Canadian security and authentication company AiT, is being set up at a number of middle and high schools in the southern United States. Through a collaboration with the school districts' health systems, Affinitex is using its VeriMe network-security product to make sure nurses have access to students' medical histories, while keeping that private information safe from prying eyes.
The first step in setting up the system is to outfit school nurses with a VeriMe unit, a credit-card-sized, half-inch-thick box that doubles as an ID badge. Each unit contains a cryptographic key that identifies the nurses, a digital record of their fingerprints, and a scanner. When nurses come within a few feet of any PC that's connected to the Internet and has been outfitted with a VeriMe base station, they confirm their identity by touching the fingerprint scanner. The badge beams an authentication to the base station via an infrared link, and the nurses are given access to student records. When the nurses walk away from the computer and their presence can no longer be detected via infrared, the system automatically logs them off.
AiT CEO Bernie Ashe says students' records are stored in an off-site location and accessed via a virtual private network, so security is maintained across the system. "The driver is the need for security and privacy," he says. "Nurses need access to these files, but they don't want to keep the records in the school." Ashe says the system is being tested at a major U.S. hospital, where it's getting a favorable response.