Medibank tackles mobile app security

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Builds native iOS, Android apps based on business demand.

Medibank Private has adopted a defence-in-depth strategy to secure customers’ healthcare data in the face of its recently launched self-service mobile applications.

The private health insurer introduced its three mobile apps in December, as part of a 2011 project to integrate its insurance and healthcare businesses.

Enterprise architect Mark White and his team was given six months to develop and deploy the apps, which allow customers to submit claims, search for nearby healthcare providers, look up symptoms, and keep track of food intake and exercise.

Speaking at the IBM Pulse conference in Las Vegas this week, White described the challenge of balancing technologists’ security concerns with the business’ demand for user-friendly features.

The Medibank Mobile App in particular was intended to access Medibank’s customer relationship management (CRM) system and claims engine to allow users to submit claims and view their policy details.

Because it involved personal information, the app and data needed to be secure. But customers were unlikely to want to remember yet another password just to use the app.

"Customer experience desires a streamlined customer interaction model within the mobile application environment," White said, describing the ideal experience as one that required the minimum number of touches, or actions, by the user.

"This desire sometimes conflicts with the need to maintain security and customer privacy."

Medibank's customer experience and IT professionals initially disagreed over the business' desire to store passwords on the device and to simplify the password to a shortened PIN.

The insurer decided to reuse customers’ web login details – already stored in Medibank’s CRM – for its mobile offerings.

It integrated the mobile apps with IBM’s WebSEAL access management product, leaning heavily on the vendor and its out-of-the-box APIs to ensure the implementation was secure.

Apps were designed to store no health information; instead, they were synchronised in real time with back-end systems on Medibank’s private cloud.

Customers were advised in the applications’ terms and conditions that although Medibank would secure data, the users were responsible for their devices and any information stored outside of the apps – such as contact details.

The apps also featured in-built certificates to allow Medibank systems to tell them apart from malicious counterfeits.

“It’s easy to look at a mobile app and say, okay we just need to enable some APIs within our network to transmit data in and out, but you really need to think about security in depth,” White told the conference.

“We put in a lot of architectural layers to ensure that we’re protected from attacks … we had to enable load balancing, we had to build a special app to do API integration into the backend systems, and we had to enable our WebSEAL environment.”

Looking forward, White said Medibank would likely develop hybrid mobile applications, blending native and web elements so they to facilitate updates and more efficient access to backend data.

The insurer was also “putting [its] toe into the water” of social networks by allowing users to link their Facebook accounts with its Energy Balancer app and post exercise goals on their profiles.

Future work will be informed by user behaviour tracking data from its Energy Balancer, Medibank Mobile and Symptom Checker apps. For privacy purposes, such data is de-identified and no health information is used.

Liz Tay attended IBM Pulse in Las Vegas as a guest of IBM

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