Internet of Things (IoT) devices have improved patient care by connecting hospital equipment, monitoring health data, and automating tasks. From medical wearables to surgical robots, an estimated 14.3 billion medical IoT devices will be in use by 2022. However, many of these devices have serious security flaws that put patient privacy and safety at risk. Hackers have demonstrated they can exploit vulnerabilities in connected medical equipment to alter settings, access personal data and even disable critical devices.
IoT Vulnerabilities in Healthcare Systems
As healthcare moves increasingly online, organizations must acknowledge the hidden dangers of medical IoT and take proactive steps to secure systems from cyberattacks. This blog will explore common vulnerabilities in healthcare IoT devices, actions organizations can take to mitigate risks, and why security must remain a top priority as new medical technologies emerge.
Weak Authentication and Access Controls
Weak authentication and access controls are big security issues. They happen when companies do not properly secure login credentials and access to their systems and data. This makes it easy for hackers to break in.
Many companies rely on simple passwords for authentication. Passwords can be easy to guess, crack or steal. Hackers use tools that automatically try common passwords to break in. Employees often choose weak passwords and reuse them across multiple accounts.
Two-factor authentication provides a stronger login by requiring a password and a code sent to a phone or email. But some two-factor options are not very secure.
Many systems have broad access controls. Everyone has the same level of access regardless of job function. Only a few people have administrator privileges. But this means administrators have too much access.
Data Breaches and Unauthorized Access
Data breaches and unauthorized access happen when criminals or unauthorized people gain access to private information. This can expose sensitive data like customer information, financial records, intellectual property, and more.
Hackers use various tactics to get unauthorized access. Common methods include phishing emails, exploiting vulnerabilities, stealing credentials, and brute force attacks. Some breaches happen due to insider threats from current or former employees.
Once attackers gain access, they can steal huge amounts of sensitive data quickly. They may access the network for months without detection. Stolen data is often sold on the dark web for use in fraud and other crimes.
Data breaches can cause major problems for businesses. They damage brand reputation, lead to fines and compliance issues, and lose customer trust. Breach response costs add up fast.
Companies take steps to prevent unauthorized access. They use firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and other security controls. Employees are trained on security best practices and password policies.
Insider threats are security risks that come from people inside an organization – employees, contractors, and other authorized users. They may maliciously or accidentally expose, alter or destroy an organization’s information systems.
Insider threats can cause significant damage. They often have legitimate access to networks and data, making it hard to detect their activity. They know the company’s weaknesses and security controls.
Most data breaches involve an insider in some way. Intentional insiders want to steal data for financial gain, hire by a competitor, or for personal motives like revenge. Accidental insiders make mistakes that expose data. Common insider threat activities include data theft, sabotage, fraud, introducing malware, unauthorized system access and unintentionally exposing data.
Organizations combat insider threats through measures like data loss prevention tools, security awareness training, strict password policies, and monitoring authorized user activity. Comprehensive background checks can reduce hiring insider threats.
Outdated Software and Systems
Using outdated software and systems is a big security risk. Older programs and devices have unpatched vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.
As software ages, the original developers stop providing security updates and patches. But vulnerabilities are always discovered in even the most widely used programs. Hackers find ways to take advantage of these unpatched flaws.
Outdated operating systems are especially risky. They lack the latest security features and cannot be patched to fix new issues. Old web browsers and plug-ins also pose risks. Companies often delay software upgrades due to cost, compatibility issues, and fear of disruptions. Maintaining older custom applications is expensive.
Not updating regularly means systems accumulate vulnerabilities over time. They become easier for hackers to breach. Data breaches often exploit flaws that had patches available for months or even years.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts a victim’s data and demands payment for a key to decrypt it. Ransomware attacks have become increasingly common and costly.
Hackers infect systems with ransomware through phishing emails, malicious ads, and compromised websites. Once a user clicks a link or opens an infected file, the ransomware installs itself. It then quickly spreads through the network and encrypts files.
Most ransomware demands payment in cryptocurrency to provide a decryption key. The payment ensures the attacker’s anonymity. Ransoming companies’ valuable data can generate huge profits for criminals. Even if victims pay the ransom, there is no guarantee the decryption key will work. Some victims never recover their encrypted files.
Medical Device Vulnerabilities
Medical devices are increasingly connected to networks and the Internet. While this connectivity enables benefits, it also introduces vulnerabilities hackers can exploit.
Many devices have poor security hygiene. They use outdated operating systems without critical patches. Default or hard-coded passwords are common. Devices often lack automatic security updates.
As a result, medical devices are prone to cyberattacks that could harm patients. Hackers have shown they can tamper with device settings, access patient data and even disable devices. Connected medical equipment, like MRI machines, CT scanners, and insulin pumps, are high-value targets. Attacks could disrupt operations or cause physical harm.
Vulnerable medical equipment includes devices that monitor vital signs, administer drugs and support critical life functions. Even hospital beds and security systems have been hacked.
Social Engineering Attacks
Social engineering attacks trick people into giving up sensitive information or performing actions that let hackers access systems. Hackers manipulate or convince victims into willingly revealing information or granting access.
Phishing is a common social engineering technique. Phishing emails or messages pretending to be from trusted sources to get victims to click links, open files or reveal login credentials. Pretexting uses made-up scenarios to get information under pretenses.
Hackers exploit human nature and the victim’s trust, curiosity, or willingness to help. Many attacks play on emotions like fear, urgency, or excitement. Training employees to recognize social engineering attempts can help reduce risk. Warning signs include unsolicited emails, unexpected phone calls, generic greetings, and messages that create a sense of urgency.
Other defenses include multi-factor authentication, strong password policies, and data loss prevention tools. Segmenting networks limits the impact of successful attacks.
Inadequate Data Encryption
Encrypting sensitive data helps prevent unauthorized access if it falls into the wrong hands. But many organizations fail to encrypt properly, leaving data vulnerable to theft or exposure. Some companies only encrypt data “at rest” like data stored on servers or backups. But they don’t encrypt data “in transit” as it moves across networks. This leaves data exposed when transmitted between devices.
Others use weak or outdated encryption methods. Older algorithms can be cracked by modern computers. Encryption keys may be easy to guess or steal. Some organizations don’t encrypt all types of sensitive data. They may only encrypt financial information, but not personal data like health records or customer information.
When data is unencrypted or poorly encrypted, it becomes easier for hackers to intercept and steal. Data breaches often involve compromised unencrypted data. To mitigate the risk, companies should have data encryption policies mandating the proper use of strong encryption for all sensitive data both at rest and in transit. They should regularly evaluate encryption methods and upgrade when necessary.
Third-Party Vendor Risks
Businesses rely on vendors and third parties to provide services and software. But these connections also expose companies to security risks outside their control. Many data breaches originate from compromised vendors rather than internal systems. Hackers target vendors as a way to gain access to multiple companies.
Third parties often don’t have the same security standards and controls as the companies they work with. Vendors may not promptly patch vulnerabilities, implement basic security measures or protect data properly. Businesses lose visibility once data leaves their systems. They must trust that vendors secure that data. But data mishandling and leaks happen frequently.
Companies take steps to manage vendor risks. They evaluate vendors’ security controls, require security terms in contracts, and perform audits. Some firms conduct risk assessments of all third parties that access their data. Despite these measures, vendor compromises continue to be a leading cause of data breaches.
Businesses face a significant expansion of risk as they outsource to third parties. While vendor management programs aim to secure these connections, companies have limited control over external systems. Firms must hold vendors accountable, continually assess security risks, and respond quickly to indicators of potential incidents involving partners to limit the damage of inevitable vendor compromises.
Lack of Employee Training and Awareness:
Employees are often the weakest link in an organization’s security. When workers lack proper training and awareness, they unknowingly leave the network open to attacks. Employees may fall for phishing emails and reveal passwords or sensitive data. They accidentally introduce malware by clicking suspicious links or opening infected attachments.
Workers may not understand how to identify social engineering attempts or other deception tactics used by hackers. Those who are not security conscious may fail to follow proper procedures like locking screens and securing devices.
Employees often need regular training on security basics like password management, data protection protocols, and how to identify and report threats. Simply distributing security policies is not enough. Companies use a variety of methods to raise awareness, including simulated phishing attacks, in-person and online courses, and security reminders and tips. Some implement gamification and incentives for completing training.
Internet of Things (IoT) devices have improved the speed, quality, and convenience of healthcare. But they have also introduced new vulnerabilities that threaten patient safety and data security. As more medical devices go online, healthcare organizations must prioritize IoT security to protect patients. This requires budgeting resources, implementing policies, and conducting user training. Device manufacturers must build security into product design from the start.
With proper precautions and oversight, IoT can transform healthcare delivery while minimizing risks to patient privacy and care. However, vigilance and constant improvements will be needed to keep pace with evolving threats to medical IoT systems. Security must remain a top priority to unlock IoT’s full benefits in healthcare responsibly.