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Medical Devices May be Vulnerable to Hackers, Security Expert Warns

Filed February 1st, 2016 Fran Kelley

Billy Rios, a cyber security expert, has warned that many medical devices—both personal devices and those used in hospitals—are vulnerable to hacking.

Rios, of the security consulting and assessment firm WhiteScope, told Dr. Max Gomez of television station CBS2, that when a device is connected wirelessly to a centralized computer network to make monitoring easier, the connection may also put the device at risk for hacking. “It’s a medical device, but the way this thing runs it’s really just a computer,” Rios said. “[S]omeone else can control this thing remotely and do things to the pump, or do things to the device or equipment. You have to understand what you’re doing before you do this.”

Rios examined a number of popular hospital infusion pumps—devices that deliver nutrients and medications. Rios says he found vulnerabilities in several infusion pump models that would allow a hacker to surreptitiously and remotely change the dose administered to a patient, Wired magazine reports. Someone could log into the device with no user name and no password. A hacker with an Internet connection could remotely operate the device or change its settings, endangering the patient. The problem affects not only hospital devices but also personal medical devices such as insulin pumps and heart pacemakers, CBS2 reports. To eliminate the risk of hacking, former Vice President Dick Cheney had the wireless function on his pacemaker disabled.

Rios explains that device manufacturers have been slow to address possible device hacking because they consider this largely a theoretical problem. But Rios wants them to act before someone dies because of a hacked device. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that health care providers to discontinue use certain IV pumps that could be hacked. But because the pumps have no actual defect, the FDA did not mandate that hospitals discontinue their use. Patients have no guarantee that the life-saving devices they are connected to can be operated only by a trained health care professional who will safeguard their well-being.

Dr. Gomez says money is also part of the problem. It is costly to upgrade the security of older devices and manufacturers want to devote funds to developing and manufacturing new devices. Some manufacturers will provide a fix for an older device only if the hospital or health care facility purchases new models from them.



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