Startup uses network automation to help hospitals solve wi-fi problems

Wyebot uses an IoT sensor and an AI engine to track connectivity issues and suggest a solution.
Written by Veronica Combs, Senior Writer

For IT professionals working in hospitals and healthcare clinics, fixing a problem with a wireless network is now more than a temporary headache. Diagnosing connectivity issues in a coronavirus ward in a hospital could put a person's health at risk.

Wyebot wants to take the risk out of those maintenance tasks with a wi-fi automation system powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor.

The company's Wireless Intelligence Platform analyzes a connectivity problem and suggests a solution with the goal of identifying the problem more quickly and reducing onsite visits.

The sensor is installed on premises at ERs and clinics and feeds data into a cloud-based application that uses an AI engine to do the troubleshooting. Roger Sands, CEO of Wyebot, said the company has been shipping the sensors for free to hospitals around the country.

"We have been collecting data from thousands of sensors for the last two years that we do the training on," he said.

The platform now runs on a rules-based engine, but the team is developing machine learning algorithms for the next phase of development.

SEE: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic (ZDNet special feature)

Sands said the platform tracks client connectivity issues and radio frequency interference and can change the network configuration dynamically in response to these issues. Hospital IT teams can put the IoT sensors in locations where COVID-19 patients are being treated and quickly have complete visibility on connectivity in those wards. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers have been building temporary clinics to expand hospital capacity in cities around the country, but these facilities have not seen as many patients as they expected due to successful social distancing policies. Early research suggests that designating some hospitals and clinics as COVID-19 treatment centers or fever clinics can reduce the spread of the virus through a hospital.

Travis Volk, technical vice president at Radware, said these temporary medical units carry a unique set of vulnerabilities due to the fact they are remote and sit outside of the layers of security measures that are usually in place to protect networks. 

"By using wireless connectivity, it opens a localized opportunity for hackers to monitor traffic over the air and increase the odds of identifying legitimate credentials to simplify their access," he said.

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Wyebot's IoT sensor is plug and play and needs an internet connection and power, either via a PoE port or a DC adapter. Wyebot uses a SaaS model and offers a one-, three-, or five-year subscription for access to the cloud application and sensors for the installation.  

The platform identifies the class of the problem, the client involved, and a suggested solution. Wyebot's analysis also provides metrics on utilization, client statistics, and the distribution of clients.

The IoT sensor has a built-in remote client. Sands said that his engineers had so much field experience that when they built the sensor, they realized they wanted a client on top of that to make it easy to run performance tests remotely. 

Wyebot has two patents associated with the new platform. One covers the edge computing process the IoT sensor uses to analyze the high volume of wireless data generated by a hospital network. 

"Sometimes this can be up to thousands of packets a second and looking through all of that information to find events of interest is a challenge because 90% of the time there is no problem," he said.

The other patent is for the AI engine that analyzes the traffic and suggests a solution to a connectivity problem.  

Sands said that wi-fi is business- critical for warehousing companies and education environments, as well as healthcare organizations. 

Increased security risks during the coronavirus epidemic

In addition to cybersecurity threats related to COVID-19, the FBI recently warned healthcare leaders that scammers are attempting to steal money by targeting state agencies looking to buy personal protective equipment and medical supplies. 
"These advanced-fee scams are a good example of where automated spam combined with advanced misinformation adds to the level of confusion according to a system's vulnerabilities," Sands said.  

He added that the sharp increase in connected devices in hospitals over the last five years has presented another security challenge for healthcare IT teams.

"As hackers target medical devices because of low-security standards, their malware is capable of emulating normal user traffic, making it extremely complicated to differentiate malicious activity leading to data access."

Volk said that healthcare organizations are totally unprepared for advanced penetration techniques.  

"The industry has been fixated on zero trusts, or user access management and encrypted communication while hackers have created techniques to bypass all forms of access management, leaving active threat mitigation to chance."

Volk predicts that one important lesson from the coronavirus epidemic will be a clear understanding of the need for a common set of security tools regardless of whether services live on the edge, in the public cloud, or in a medical transport vehicle.  

"This consistency allows for better overall visibility, control, and compliance," he said.

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