Medical Device Cybersecurity: A Necessary and Growing Industry

Digitalization and interconnectedness are virtually everywhere, including in the healthcare industry. Many medical devices and equipment already come with their respective CPUs, RAMs, ROMs, and other components that make them smart and web-enabled. These results in numerous benefits, but they also come with serious risks of cyberattacks.

The cybersecurity industry has responded accordingly with the creation of a sub-industry: medical device cybersecurity. A 2021-2028 forecast projects a compounded annual growth rate of 25.3 percent for the global medical device cybersecurity solutions market. This relatively high growth is driven by the increased adoption of IoT and smart devices in the healthcare sector.

Cybersecurity solutions aimed at healthcare devices and equipment are no longer a small niche. They now comprise a significant sub-industry healthcare organizations will likely find indispensable in the foreseeable future, as they deal with numerous interconnected medical devices that contribute to the rapid expansion of cyber-attack surfaces.

The importance of securing medical devices

Medical device cybersecurity is essential, since the devices involved can impact lives. Pertinent government agencies and regulatory bodies have already proceeded with steps to bolster medical cybersecurity. In September, for example, there was an attempt to pass a medical device cybersecurity provision requiring manufacturers to patch their medical devices under the FDA Authorization Bill. The attempt failed, but experts are still optimistic that it can succeed in future efforts.

There is also a bill called the PATCH Act of 2022, which aims to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to compel cyber device manufacturers to provide information that can demonstrate "a reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness throughout the lifecycle of the cyber device."

Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has pitched some recommendations on how to boost the cybersecurity of medical devices. These recommendations can be summed up as follows:
  • Implementing endpoint protection measures - These include the use of antivirus software tools, medical device data encryption, and active monitoring of cyber threats to the healthcare facility’s network.
  • Ensuring a strong identity and access management plan - It is not enough to secure access with passwords. These passwords must not be easy to predict and also need to be changed regularly.
  • Good asset visibility and management - It is advisable to have a regularly updated inventory of all medical devices used in a healthcare organization, including those that are sent to patients’ homes. This is important to keep track of the devices that have become problematic and require repair or replacement.
  • Vulnerability management - There is a need for regular—preferably continuous—scanning for cybersecurity. Healthcare facilities are also advised to work closely with the makers of the medical devices they are using to ensure that all security patches are promptly applied and firmware are updated.
  • Cybersecurity training for employees - People are still the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain, so it is crucial to help them learn how to spot potential cybersecurity threats, social engineering in particular. It is also vital to set up ways to address the possibility of insider attacks.

The severity of attacks on medical devices

To date, there have been no widespread attempts to murder or seriously harm patients through medical devices. The most common attacks are about patient data theft and attempts to disrupt healthcare operations through the spread of malicious software. These are by no means not minor assaults, though. Patient privacy violations are a major problem that should be resolved with a great deal of urgency.

In the United States, more than 22 million health records have been breached in the first half of 2022. Some may be skeptical about this number, but it is not that difficult to steal medical data nowadays. The interconnectedness of medical devices like heart pacemakers, insulin pumps, inhalers, and wearable patient monitoring systems creates various opportunities for threat actors.

The high-profile data compromise on Apple and Fitbit wearables in 2021, for instance, resulted in the exposure of more than 61 million health records. This was reportedly due to an unsecured third-party database. Cybercriminals succeeded in compromising this database and perhaps a few other servers. They did not need to go through hundreds of thousands of devices to obtain millions of private patient data.

Personal data is valuable to cybercriminals for a number of reasons. For one, massive amounts of data can be sold on the dark net to other cybercriminals, who in turn use the information for various felonious purposes. Data thieves may also use the personal information themselves for identity theft or impersonation. They can file fake insurance claims or use fake documents based on the stolen data to buy prescription medications for abusers. In some cases, stolen medical information can be used to blackmail or extort patients.

What medical device cybersecurity looks like

Cybersecurity firms develop solutions that mainly address device visibility. They develop special observability capabilities that cover the entire lifecycle of connected medical devices or the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), from design to deployment and maintenance.

Every new smart medical device deployed becomes an additional attack surface. Often, organizations do not pay that much attention to them, especially if they inherently do not support security visibility mechanisms. Thus, they become security weaknesses and compliance burdens. Cybersecurity firms try to address this problem by providing a solution that helps healthcare organizations properly understanding, protecting, and managing their connected hardware.

The medical device cybersecurity solution can be a platform that brings together all connected medical devices through a system that efficiently extracts data from low-resource medical devices. It can also be a runtime protection system that can be directly applied to the code of medical devices including the devices from third parties.

Additionally, it can be a cloud-based analytics system capable of providing real-time visibility for a wide range of medical devices. Moreover, a medical device cybersecurity solution can be a free software license available to everyone like the free security and observability platform for improved access to such solutions.

In conclusion

Medical device cybersecurity is surging because the number of connected medical devices is rapidly growing. It makes sense for healthcare facilities and institutions to treat cybersecurity for medical devices with utmost urgency even though the most rampant attacks, for now, involve patient data theft and malware dissemination.

The possibility of hack attacks on medical devices to inconvenience patients or, worse, adversely affect their conditions, may not be too far into the future. It is reassuring to see cybersecurity providers already developing solutions against literally life-threatening cyberattacks on medical devices and building out a fast-rising sub-industry in the process.

Top Featured Image: Pixabay
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