Blog Tag: hospira symbiq infusion system

An example provided in InfoArmor's July 2016 report regarding the type of data hackers were able to obtain

Hackers Steal 600K Records from Health Care Firms – Could Your Wearable Device Be Next?

Security firm InfoArmor published a report in late July 2016 stating that a group of attackers infiltrated American health care institutions, stole at least 600,000 patient records and attempted to sell more than 3 terabytes of that associated data.  In an interview with eWeek, chief intelligence officer Andrew Komarov noted that the hackers he investigated were able to compromise different health care institutions such as private clinics, vendors of medical equipment, and suppliers.  Once inside the compromised systems, the hackers were able to take personally identifiable information and medical data, including imaging data (as shown to the right).

Komarov’s research should come as no surprise in view of a report issued by the Brookings Institute in May 2016 reporting that 23% of all data breaches occur in the healthcare industry.  In fact, nearly 90% of healthcare organizations had some sort of data breach between 2013 and 2015, costing the healthcare industry nearly $6.2 billion.

According to a report done by Bloomberg BNA, while a number of legal mandates exist (e.g. the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Health Information Technology Certification Program, and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) premarket review), the existing guidelines are limited.  Furthermore, medical devices face certain unique cybersecurity pitfalls.  For example, while HIPAA applies to protect health information regardless of where it’s stored, protected health information that exists on disposed of or nonfunctional medical devices can be overlooked.

Connected medical devices (i.e., medical devices that can transmit information through the internet or a networked system) also pose unexpected risks and challenges.  For example, the ability for hackers to remotely access connected medical devices can hypothetically result in significant threats to patient health and safety.  A 2012 episode of the television show Homeland featured a character hacking into and manipulating the pacemaker of the fictional vice president.  While such situations seem far-fetched, in an interview on “60 Minutes,” it was revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney’s doctor had actually disabled the wireless functionality of his heart implant, fearing that it might be hacked in an assassination attempt.

While such fears may seem fueled by paranoia, recent studies have shown that such security threats may be a real concern.  Bloomberg Businessweek reported in November 2015 that the Mayo Clinic engaged a number of high-profile “white hat” hackers to conduct a study of cybersecurity vulnerabilities in their medical devices.  These “white hat” hackers worked on a number of different medical devices, including things such as cardiac monitors, infusion pumps, and hospital beds. In one alarming example, one hacker was able to gain control of an infusion pump – the Hospira Symbiq Infusion System – and was able to remotely cause it to deliver a potentially lethal dose of medication.  Shortly thereafter, the FDA issued a safety notice recommending a recall and the stopped usage of the aforementioned pump.

With increasing concerns about cybersecurity, as discussed on this blog previously, the FDA is currently seeking comment on proposed guidelines that outline when software changes to medical devices would require manufacturers to submit a premarket notification.