Internet-connected medical devices, with their sensors, wireless systems, and functional software, have become commonplace in hospitals and healthcare organizations. From wearable ear thermometers for infants to pacemakers and other implants, connected medical devices optimize healthcare, enhance its efficiency, and provide critical life-saving aid. New products like motion sensor devices for sedentary patients, microsensors, and robotic capsules are transforming medical care.
As they contribute to better healthcare, however, connected medical devices are vulnerable to malware, ransomware, DDoS attacks, crypto-jacking, and data breaches. With such cyberattacks, hackers can steal healthcare data and patient identities, prevent access to patient data, destroy hospital records, and interfere with ongoing clinical care. Along with compromising patient safety and privacy, they can damage the reputations of medical device companies, hospitals, and independent practitioners. They can also cause substantial financial losses due to reclaiming and restoring healthcare systems and handling any resulting litigation.
It has therefore become imperative for the healthcare industry to prioritize cybersecurity. Here are some steps that hospitals, healthcare providers, and medical device manufacturers can take to safeguard against cyberattacks.
Inform Patients of All Inherent Risks
Before fitting patients with implants and other medical devices that wirelessly connect to health monitoring software, healthcare providers must explain the risks involved and their consequences. Patients must understand that while innovations bring new hope, they can also create new attack pathways for hackers. They should know the protocols to follow if the devices are compromised.
Update Software Regularly
Prompt implementation of software patches and updates can mitigate the risk of cyberattacks. If the individual devices receive updates according to their risk profiles, they will be less vulnerable to exploitation. For this reason, healthcare organizations and practitioners must maintain contact with medical device manufacturers and get regular software updates.
Monitor Connected Medical Devices
Real-time monitoring of connected medical devices can help hospital security teams find vulnerabilities in them and their software. By locating anomalous device behaviors, they can discover if devices are compromised. However, if a hospital has a complex network of thousands of connected medical devices, human monitoring is out of the question. Instead, it will be necessary to deploy an artificial intelligence program to handle network management.
Conduct Rigorous Security Testing
By carrying out multiple pre-market security tests, medical device manufacturers can detect and correct flaws in the devices and software, as well as develop innovative ideas to improve security. Purdue University researchers recently designed a wireless body area network that can pass signals from a medical device to a data-gathering tool using the body's conductivity. Because it can bypass the internet, such a network can prevent wireless implant hacking attempts.
Segment Connected Medical Devices
Connected medical devices can be segmented according to their vulnerability to risk. By operating them in isolated networks, it is possible to keep them relatively safe from hacking attacks.
No one should underestimate the impact of cyberattacks on connected medical devices. They can severely disrupt hospital healthcare systems, put small practitioners out of business, and endanger patients. While cybersecurity practices can thwart many of these, there will be new, more sophisticated attempts to break through the healthcare sector's cyber threat defenses. Continual vigilance on the part of manufacturers, distributors, medical personnel, and individual patients is the only solution.