There are a large number of potential attack vectors on any network. Medical devices on a healthcare network is certainly one of them. While medical devices represent a potential threat, it is important to keep in mind that the threat level posed by any given medical device should be determined by a Security Risk Assessment (SRA) and dealt with appropriately.
So let’s assume the worst case and discuss the issues associated with medical devices. First off, it must be recognized that any device connected to a network represents a potential incursion point. Medical devices are regulated by the FDA, and that agency realized the security implications of medical devices as far back as November 2009, when it issued this advisory. In it, the FDA emphasized the following points:
- Medical device manufacturers and user facilities should work together to ensure that cybersecurity threats are addressed in a timely manner.
- The agency typically does not need to review or approve medical device software changes made for cybersecurity reasons.
- All software changes that address cybersecurity threats should be validated before installation to ensure they do not affect the safety and effectiveness of the medical devices.
- Software patches and updates are essential to the continued safe and effective performance of medical devices.
Many device manufacturers are way behind on cybersecurity issues. As an example, many devices are still running on Windows XP today, even though we are one year past the XP support deadline. They are often loathe to update their software for a new operating system. In other situations device manufacturers use the XP support issue as a way to force a client to purchase a new device at a very high price. All healthcare facilities would be well advised to review any purchase and support contracts for medical devices and make sure that things such as Windows upgrades do not force unwanted or unnecessary changes down the road. While there are options to remediate risks around obsolete operating systems, they are unnecessary and costly. Manufacturers should be supporting their products in a commercially reasonable manner.
Why would anyone be interested in hacking into a medical device? Of course there are those that would argue that anything that can be hacked will be hacked, “just because”. While it is possible that hacking could also occur to disrupt the operations of the device, the more likely reason is that getting onto a medical device represents a backdoor into a network with a treasure trove of PHI that can be sold for high prices on the black market. Medical devices are often accessible outside of normal network logon requirements. That is because manufacturers maintain separate, backdoor access for maintenance reasons. Hackers armed with knowledge of default passwords and other default logon information can have great success targeting a medical device. For example, this article details examples of a blood gas analyzer, a PACS system and an X-Ray system that were hacked. Many times healthcare IT departments are unaware or unable to remediate backdoor access to these systems. These are perhaps more “valuable” as a hack because they are hard to detect and can go unnoticed for a long period of time. As a reminder, the Target data breach last year was initiated because the access that a third party had to the retailer’s network was compromised. A complete SRA should inventory all network connected medical devices and analyze the access/credentials that a device has, and any associated security threat. The best defense is a good offense – make sure that networked devices have proper security built in and implemented. Then your devices will no longer be “the weak link in the chain”.