Philip Cao

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IoT Security in Healthcare is Imperative in Life and Death

3 min read

May WangWe go into the hospital with a great deal of trust. We trust that doctors will help us and potentially even save our lives. Beyond hospitals, there are not many places in the world where we are willing to do anything we are asked: take off our clothes, talk about our sex lives, etc.

Recent cyberattacks, such as WannaCry and NotPetya, put this trust into question. An increasing number of cybersecurity incidents have impacted many hospitals and made them unsafe. Not only was patient information stolen and privacy impaired, but, in some cases, the cyberattacks interrupted normal operations and services. In hospitals, that could mean life or death.

Over the last decade, the healthcare industry made significant progress on digital transformation. Patients’ healthcare records are online, test results and images are digitized, an increasing number of medical devices are connected, and medical equipment can be remotely monitored and maintained. This technology has brought tremendous improvements in efficiency and convenience to medical staff and patients alike, while helping reduce human errors and lower operational costs. At the same time, however, this high level of connectivity has created a much larger surface area for security risks. Because there are so many connected devices and a large variety of different types of connected devices, it is becoming increasingly difficult to completely secure all of them at all times.

Hackers can not only use these devices as stepping stones to access critical assets, such as patients’ healthcare records, they also can compromise these devices to cause physical harm and put people’s lives at risk. For example, we demonstrated in our research lab that we can hack into an infusion pump from a leading vendor to change the dosage of the medication that is going directly into a patient’s body. This dosage change alone could be fatal to a patient.

Mid- to large-size hospitals use hundreds, if not thousands of third-party products and services. Even if the hospital itself is secured, these third-party vendors can bring in lots of vulnerabilities. Each of these third parties also uses many more other external vendors. If any of those external vendors is affected, there could be a domino effect on the hospital’s security – yet another reason it is extremely challenging to secure a hospital and all its IoT devices.

Is there a solution? In many ways, an IoT system is very similar to the human body – a large and complex system that is always on. Let’s use a heart attack as an analogy. We all know that a heart attack can be catastrophic. Although a heart attack usually happens suddenly, the conditions that make it likely actually take days, months or even years to build up. If we could continuously, automatically and intelligently monitor the heart and body, we could detect early signs of problems and take preventive actions to avoid the heart attack.

Doctors detect and cure diseases through their detailed knowledge of different parts of our body and their functionalities. Surprisingly, we don’t have similar information on IoT networks. Most hospitals we have talked to don’t have up-to-date information about what types of IoT devices they have, much less how many of these devices are connected onto their networks. So, IoT device visibility is the first task for each organization. At any given time, we need to know which devices are connected onto the network – plus, what they are supposed to do and not supposed to do – and conduct real-time monitoring of their behavior for early detection of potential cyberattacks.

Yet another challenge beyond the number and varied types of devices: these devices get on and off the network dynamically. How do we handle a highly dynamic system of such large scale? Obviously, manual monitoring is not feasible. The key is to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and monitor devices automatically, so that we can further protect them – and the hospital and its patients – in the event of a cyberattack.

In summary, visibility and AI are the keys for IoT security in healthcare.

Dr. May Wang, Co-Founder and CTO, ZingBox

[ISACA Now Blog]

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