Healthcare News & Insights

Your medical devices are vulnerable to newest security threat

Cybersecurity is crucial for hospitals, especially regarding the medical devices your facility uses every day. Unfortunately, protecting these devices from hackers and attacks can be tricky, and tactics used to gain unauthorized access are growing more complicated and complex. 

100277456Medical devices are more vulnerable than computers and other hardware on a hospital’s network for several reasons:

  • They’re often not updated as regularly as computers are, and
  • They tend to run on older operating systems, which are filled with vulnerabilities since they aren’t always able to detect security threats.

In a new report, TrapX, a security firm, discusses the newest trend in attacks on medical devices.

Because many of these devices run on older versions of Windows software, hackers tend to exploit known weaknesses in the software, taking past versions of malicious software programs (or malware) and tweaking them so the malware can provide access to a hospital’s network via an infected device.

This type of malware can go undetected easily. Often, hospital’s computers and main servers run on newer operating systems that aren’t affected by older malware, so they tend to ignore attacks from outdated programs. That leaves older malware free to spread itself to unprotected hospital devices – and savvy hackers hide newer threats within older software so the malware can also harm newer computers on a hospital’s network after it’s installed on a medical device.

How malware spreads

The TrapX report discusses three hospitals where attacks from a malware program known as MEDJACK 2 (short for “medical device hijack”) were only discovered after a close analysis. All three hospitals had extensive protections in place to keep their networks secure, including firewalls and intrusion detection software. They also closely followed other best practices for cybersecurity in health care.

However, malware still managed to slip its way past these protections and infect various devices from each facility, including an X-ray machine, a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) for radiology, a radiation oncology system and a fluoroscopy radiology system.

Once the software compromises a medical device, there’s a great deal of potential for damage. Hackers may be able to gain control of the device remotely and tamper with how it works.

According to the TrapX report, though, it’s more likely that these attacks are specifically designed to steal patients’ protected health information (PHI) for various reasons – from holding the data for ransom to selling the information on the black market.

And many types of equipment are vulnerable to this malware. Besides the devices that were attacked in these hospitals, equipment such as MRI machines, infusion pumps, ventilators, dialysis machines and medical lasers are also prone to attacks.

Next steps for hospitals

Because malware such as MEDJACK 2 has the potential to infect a variety of devices in a hospital, causing a great deal of damage, facilities must be on high alert.

Start by reviewing all the devices your facility currently uses to see if they’ve been infected with any malware, or if they have any major weaknesses making them prone to attacks. It’s key to set aside a portion of your facility’s security budget to install software that can detect a variety of threats to your devices, both old and new.

And it’s also important to work closely with your vendors so your medical devices can be kept as up to date as possible – or even replaced, if necessary.

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  1. Jess,

    I didn’t know how strong the security threat was against hospital devices. Hospitals need to be diligent in checking their devices and adding anti-threat software. A hospital device getting hacked puts so many people’s sensitive information at risk. It’s a scary threat.

    Thanks for the interesting info. Hope to connect soon.


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