Brian W. Horton, CEO, IT Strategy, Inc
Hackers have found another way to extort the medical community and their patients. There's a disturbing trend of cyber-thieves targeting medical devices in doctors' offices and hospitals. The very medical devices that provide life saving treatment are now being targeted by hackers - for profit.
Just recently, researchers discovered a new version of MEDJACK, which is leaving medical devices, like x-ray machines and MRI scanners, vulnerable for cyber-criminals. Initially discovered in 2015, the MEDJACK malware was developed as an intentional and organized initiative targeting hospital networks. The latest version to be discovered allows the threat actor to steal patient data, exfiltrating it from the network.
The issue starts with how these devices were made. The purpose behind these types of devices are their unique functions: heart monitoring, insulin pumps, dispensing of medication, medical imaging, etc. Cybersecurity was rarely, if ever, considered during the design and development of these devices. As medical organizations continue to push the boundaries of interconnecting devices, software, patient records, etc., these devices must now be placed on computer networks. This useful interconnection can also make breach possible.
Compounding the situation is federal regulation which now mandates such interoperability - think MACRA. The breach of medical devices is highly lucrative for hackers. In addition to locking down and encrypting computer data for ransom, medical devices could now be rendered useless until monetary demands are met. Imagine telling your staff the MRI scanner cannot be used because it was breached. Or perhaps explain to a patient their sensitive test results were stolen directly from the device. Worse yet, a machine is compromised and disabled while a patient is using it. Hackers are keenly aware of the sensitivity this issue presents, and will exploit it every way possible.
Needless to say, all of this is a major issue for healthcare organizations. There are best practices institutions can adopt to help protect themselves and their patients.One of the more critical steps is network isolation and segmentation. For example: making sure medical devices cannot directly communicate with staff computers would reduce the risk of breach.
As we, as a society, continue to commit to the progressive marriage of technology and medicine, healthcare related cyber crime will continue to compound. This is unavoidable. Trying to tackle these issues in a singular fashion, with one-off incident response processes and security projects, will never address the larger issue. Healthcare organizations must begin adopting a culture of security. From senior management, to the janitor, cyber security must drive executive dialog and corporate decision points.