IoT Device Security and Securing the Health of Connected Medical Devices

by Apr 27, 2018

The increased demand for connected health devices and IoT device security is driven by several factors which we will explore more in the article. These factors include remote and home-based care needs for chronic conditions in a growing elderly population. These devices have been shown in the medical world to increase the quality and effectiveness of providing health care needs to patients. Ensuring the best IoT device security is critical with making sure these devices stay secure and no personal information is lost or accessed by hackers.


IoT Device Security is Crucial

As the use of IoT devices continues to spread throughout the healthcare sector it is important to remember to increase IoT device security is vital to ensure patient safety. It’s imperative that securing the health of connected medical devices will continue to increase as cyber-criminals work harder both to exploit known vulnerabilities and to discover new vulnerabilities.


The Big Question About IoT Security: Will Rewards Outweigh Consequences in IoT Security?

Connected health devices have revolutionized healthcare and can help reduce the cost of care. However, because of their increased use in the medical industry, it’s expected that there will be an increased risk of cyberattacks. In "The Healthcare Internet of Things: Rewards and Risks,” The Atlantic Council and Intel Security outline four categories of networked medical IoT devices that can place consumers at risk.

Some of the different medical devices include:

  • Consumer products for health monitoring, e.g. FitBit bands that use Bluetooth to communicate with personal mobile devices.
  • Wearable, external medical devices, e.g. portable insulin pumps that use proprietary wireless protocols for communication.
  • Internally embedded medical devices e.g. implanted pacemakers that communicate wirelessly via Bluetooth or proprietary wireless protocols.
  • Stationary medical devices, e.g. home care cardio-monitoring or hospital-based chemotherapy dispensing stations that connect wirelessly to WiFi networks in patient homes or hospitals.

The report also highlighted several notable risks for connected medical devices based on several different factors. We have compiled the list below:

  • Unlike what is seen with technologies used in mobile phones or tablets, e.g. iOS or Android, 3G or 4G and WiFi or WiFi only, there is a lack of standard operating environments, protocols, and architecture for connected medical devices.
  • The programming languages used for coding device software varies and both hardware and software technologies tend to be older to help simplify maintenance of these medical devices. Because the hardware and coding are older, they are more likely to contain vulnerabilities known to hackers.
  • There is a lack of rigorous access control as device makers tend to use embedded credentials that allow emergency access to their devices, which poses a considerable risk to users. We here at ReFirm have found several instances ourselves where device manufacturers have left passwords and other credentials exposed in firmware.
  • Many connected medical devices lack flexible maintenance and updating features. Despite the speed with which makers have been able to implement new features, these devices will remain unpatched and vulnerable if updating them is too difficult or complicated for end-users.

Changes Needed, Including Secure-By-Design

Manufacturers of connected health devices have to take a more proactive approach toward reducing the security risks associated with healthcare IoT device security. In “Content of Premarket Submissions for Management of Cybersecurity in Medical Devices,” the Food and Drug Administration requested that connected health device makers submit information regarding any identified risks and what controls have been put in place to mitigate known risks. 

Although announcement was back in late 2014, its guidance is still relevant to today’s connected medical device marketplace. With our knowledge of IoT and firmware security, we believe it is critical that companies adopt a “secure-by-design” principle when creating connected health products. Trying to implement security features after a device’s initial rollout is costly and can easily end in disaster.


Addressing the Risks of Connected Health Devices

The Atlantic Council report estimates that approximately $64 billion could be saved in healthcare costs over the next 15 years, but notes these savings come at a cost. Healthcare providers have been left to address the potential failures and risks of connected health devices that could be an issue for the safety of patients and security within their network environments. If a breach in patient privacy were to occur, patient and public trust would be eroded and costs to healthcare providers skyrocket. Indeed, the potential threats faced by healthcare providers are numerous:

  • Disruption of care.
  • Stealing of data to be used for extortion, blackmail, medical identity theft or fraud
  • DoS attacks
  • Destruction of data
  • Ransomware that could bring care to a standstill
  • Targeting of specific classes of networked medical devices
  • Threat of targeted killings by hacktivists or terrorist groups

Given the variety of risks, then, healthcare providers must evaluate new connected medical devices to ensure they are capable of securely storing and transmitting data, accepting security updates for operating software and firmware, and properly use APIs that ensure a secure connection. These same procedures also need to be followed in hardening healthcare provider networks and IT infrastructure.


Mitigating Risks for Connected Medical Devices

The threat to connected medical devices is now apparent. It is absolutely critical that healthcare companies manufacturing these devices ensure the IoT firmware is secure and have the ability to easily update the devices if any issues are found.

If your healthcare organization uses connected health devices, then you should be aware of the benefits of using Centrifuge Guardian, part of the Centrifuge Platform, from ReFirm Labs. Centrifuge Guardian continuously monitors device firmware to proactively alert you whenever new threats impact your network, computers, peripherals, and IoT connected health devices.

If you have additional questions about what you and your company can do to ensure IoT firmware device security, contact us today!

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