Are Insecure Medical Devices Eroding Patient Safety and Security?

Illness, private health issues or even false alarms. The last thing medical patients need to worry about is the leakage of their health data or the safety of their treatment. In an age where modern connected medical devices are becoming a prevalent scene, these devices pose an increasingly large risk to the exposure of safeguarded operations and health data. Due to the rapid advancement in health technology, what risks does releasing insecure medical devices really pose?

Much like industrial equipment, medical technology requires the same attention to keep sensitive data and operations secure. Within industrial environments, machinery contains actuators, controllers and human interfaces to machine operators. In the medical realm, devices with similar components include drug administration devices, X-ray machines, MRI scanners and on a consumer scale, implantable devices such as cardiac pacemakers. Many of these devices also have capabilities to become remotely accessible, and when not properly secured, are susceptible to loss of data, loss of control attacks and other forms of manipulation. As such, medical devices require the same amount of attention to cyber resilience protecting prospective patients as the attention placed on protecting any other critical infrastructure. Whilst having a focus on improving patient healthcare and service efficiency will yield beneficial results for hospitals, the potential for disaster looms around the corner of the not-so-distant future without a greater emphasis being placed on secured technology.

What kind of impact does healthcare technology feel today?

In the case of last year’s paralysis of the UK’s National Health Service’s systems, it showed the potential for a very bad day for patients. Legacy systems at the state-run facility faced the wrath of the Wannacry malware, shutting down operations as it spread through unprotected systems. Evidence suggested that immobilizing the hospital was not the goal of the attack, although fell victim due to the sub-par security. Knowing this shutdown of operations existed as collateral damage, what kind of chaotic damage could have taken place if the system had been specifically targeted?

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The FDA recall of St Jude Medical’s implanted cardiac pacemakers highlighted security vulnerabilities within the devices, with possible exploitation enabling access to manipulate pacing patterns and modify programming commands for rapid battery depletion. It is critical to ensure extensive testing for implantable patient devices for both the wellbeing of the patient and maintaining a health brand image for manufacturers. Healthcare providers are responsible for personal health data, the administration of treatments and the operation of heavy-duty machinery on patients. This spells the potential to damage personal lives, or even worse, the alteration of possibly lethal dosages administered to patients and unsafe operating procedures for machinery. Sadly, it is likely for further disruptions to the security of patient safety before industry-wide action is to be taken to secure connected devices.

Steps to securing a healthy future of medical devices

For the betterment of patient safety, the relationships between security providers and device manufacturers must be focused on improving. The concept of “Secure by Design” is essential to combatting design flaws in device security, and an important step to securing the safety and private health data of patients. Systems should incorporate principles of the secure development lifecycle ensuring security requirements are identified early on, systems can suitably withstand threats, security checkpoints are implemented correctly and verified before release. Beyond development, a response plan detailing retaliation against malicious attacks should be outlined to minimize the impact of a successful breach.

By addressing security issues at the early stage of device development, product reliability will increase through better compatibility with security programming, less unexpected issues will draw out timelines and financial budgets and your company will likely be avoiding a negative image should a breach or testing conclude that an afterthought approach to security led to compromise. Let’s ensure Doctor-Patient Confidentiality stays confidential.

As specialists in Operation Technology Security, Applied Risk has both the means and the knowledge to seamlessly assist with enhancing security for your medical IoT devices and networks. See our Medical Devices Security Assessment page for how we can further assist with your progress.