cybersecurity

Securing advanced medical devices with intelligent solutions

While these devices are vital for healthcare, their functionalities are vulnerable to threats, both internal and external.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic exerts pressure on healthcare workers and hospitals around the world to an almost unfair degree. Any medical centre near you has most likely been working at full capacity for several months now. Advanced healthcare technology continues to be instrumental in saving many lives during this challenging phase and similar others. For decades now, we know that digital technology is involved in healthcare to reduce human errors in diagnosis and treatment.

Doctors have extensively used medical devices such as ventilators and electrocardiogram (ECG) machines to help critically ill patients. While these devices are vital for healthcare, their functionalities are vulnerable to threats, both internal and external. One such threat is the prospect of cybercriminals sneakily altering the operations of medical devices. Here are some medical devices and the ways in which their working can be remotely affected to cause disastrous consequences for hospitals and patients:

Surgical Robots

Robot-assisted operations were conceptualised and developed to overcome the limitations of pre-existing minimally invasive surgeries. The machines enhance the capabilities of experienced surgeons in completing open surgeries. The surgical precision of robots is useful to achieve positive results with minimal human involvement in difficult operations. Unfortunately, technology experts have demonstrated that surgical robots could be hacked remotely. In a life-or-death situation, malfunctioning surgical robots could prove to be fatal for patients.

Defibrillators and Pacemakers

Defibrillators and pacemakers are implanted devices that use electric impulses to restore and regulate heartbeats for patients with cardiac ailments. Experienced cyber-attackers possess the knowhow to manipulate such devices externally to cause cardiac arrests and other serious health complications in patients. There have been many examples of the employment of data security measures to prevent cybercriminals from hacking into pacemakers and defibrillators. The former US Vice-President Dick Cheney had suffered a series of heart attacks before his public office stint. Famously, cybersecurity experts had reprogrammed his defibrillator in a specific way to disallow terrorists from remotely getting into the implanted device and causing harm to Mr. Cheney’s life.

MRI Systems

Doctors use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning technology to diagnose and treat diseases within the human body. Health experts use MRI devices to monitor the chemical proportionality during the scans. Cybercriminals are capable of externally altering the component percentages of chemicals in the device indicators. Such alterations manipulate the systems into providing incorrect diagnosis after patient examination.

Medical Records

Medical records of patients contain the most sensitive details about them. Cybercriminals seeking to exploit such individuals can access these goldmines of information by hacking into the hospital database. The data could be used to harm such individuals. Moreover, a leak of confidential patient data could lead to massive legal ramifications for the hospital.

Apart from these scenarios, inexperienced hospital workers could cause data leaks, malfunctions, and other issues just by their negligence while operating the sophisticated medical devices.

The prompt data security measures by a designated team of cybersecurity experts can help avoid or mitigate the damages stemming from medical devices’ hacking by internal or external actors.

What Is an Intelligent Firewall?

At first glance, an intelligent firewall resembles a regular router, but it performs several more tasks than your regular firewall. It operates through the internet traffic to scan, filter and block potentially harmful activities going on in the background. The firewall regularly notifies the network administrators about the threats that have entered their network. In this way, the firewall diagnoses malicious external threats in the first instance. Moreover, an intelligent firewall can enforce internal pre-defined organisational policies such as preventing the company staff from browsing and accessing potentially harmful or inappropriate websites during their work hours. With the advancements in AI, manufacturers are even using deep learning in their systems to track historical data security attacks. The intelligent firewall then uses the stored information to stop similar actions in the future.

Intelligent firewall security systems can be utilised for the following purposes in the field of healthcare:

Safeguarding Patient Data

Sensitive patient data must be out of reach for cybercriminals at all costs. An intelligent firewall only allows authorised users to view confidential patient records. There are multiple levels of identification to pass before users are granted access to the controls of the medical devices.

Preventing Hospital Network Compromise

Cyber-attackers can break through the data security frameworks if the hospital networks are not sufficiently protected. An intelligent firewall prevents possibilities of a complete security breach by deploying measures such as shutting down the network to stop an external threat invasion into the systems.

Avoiding Medical Device Malfunctions/Interruptions

Medical devices are extremely crucial in today’s healthcare industry. Complex surgeries can be executed today in sensitive bodily areas without the risks that we generally associate with humans due to their tendency to have concentration lapses. However, we must also understand that medical devices cannot operate by themselves. The complex machines must receive accurately calibrated commands and a certain level of human assistance to achieve their razor-sharp precision in any operation. The intelligent firewall does its job by making sure that only the authorised experts can operate the devices. Moreover, the system diligently blocks any external entities.

A patient’s life is the most valuable aspect of the healthcare industry at any given juncture. The sheer necessity of competent cyber protection in medical centres cannot be emphasised enough. The complete safeguarding of advanced medical devices from harmful digital threats can help to save more lives. An intelligent firewall is thoroughly capable of dealing with such threats efficiently.

 

The author is Sonit Jain, CEO of GajShield Infotech

 

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