Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
November 8, 2017

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HEALTHCARE IOT

Pacemakers and other implanted medical devices present “life or death” cybersecurity risk

Closeup of a pacemaker on an electrocardiograph

Many medical devices are now vulnerable to cyber-attack with potentially “life or death consequences,” an IT research expert has told the Financial Times.

Part of the burgeoning internet of things trend, cardiac monitors, glucometers, insulin pumps and other medical devices are increasingly connected to wifi and equipped with sensors.

Myriad vulnerabilities in connected medical devices have already been discovered by researchers.

Christian Renaud of 451 Group said that the benefits of connectivity – including continuous monitoring, telemedicine and big data analysis – come with a huge risk: “Abuse by bad actors, just as it does in connected cars and industrial automation, although with much more direct ‘life or death’ consequences.”

In December, British and Belgian researchers found security flaws in the proprietary communication protocols of 10 implantable cardiac defibrillators on the market.

Altering medication

A report by the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team on the security status of syringe infusion pumps warned that “successful exploitation of these vulnerabilities may allow a remote attacker to gain unauthorised access and impact the intended operation of the pump” – meaning a hacker could alter the quantities of medication administered to a patient.

Smiths Medical, which manufactured the devices, has promised to issue a software security update to remedy the vulnerabilities by January 2018.

Vulnerabilities were also found in implantable cardiac defibrillators and pacemakers manufactured by St Jude Medical in January of this year. Patients will have to attend hospitals and clinics to have devices removed, albeit no invasive surgery will be needed.

The recall involves some 465,000 devices.

Doctors disabled wireless connectivity in the pacemaker of former US Vice-President Dick Cheney due to cybersecurity concerns

Doctors disabled wireless connectivity in the pacemaker of former US Vice-President Dick Cheney due to cybersecurity concerns.

In 2016, healthcare brand Johnson & Johnson admitted that its insulin pumps had a vulnerability that, if breached, could cause a potentially fatal overdose of insulin.

Although devices makers are under fire for not prioritising security at all stages of the design process, guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognises that healthcare facilities, patients and providers all have a role to play too.

An article published by The Hill in June reported that the FDA and medical device makers are expecting more hacking attacks.

Commenting on the story, Ilia Kolochenko, CEO of web security company High-Tech Bridge said: “The problem is aggravated by the very low level of cybersecurity at hospitals in general – lack of segregation and access rights, missing security patches and updates, missing or weak encryption, insecure authentication, default or weak passwords.

“Connected medical devices should be strictly and severely regulated by governments, and their manufacturers should bear the liability for any negligence or carelessness during the manufacturing process – otherwise medicine will become an extremely dangerous activity within the next decade.”

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