The Importance of Cybersecurity for Medical IoT Devices

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, follow the conversation and do your part #BeCyberSmart.

Follow us this month as we engage our health IT community in cybersecurity awareness.

This is week 4 and the theme is Cybersecurity First. We have engaged Dan Matthews to share insights on this week’s theme.

By Dan Matthews, Writer, Content Consultant, and Researcher
Twitter: @danielmatthews0

Every year that goes by brings new exciting developments in the world of healthcare that are helping us to live healthier and longer lives. A great advancement in this regard is the Internet of Things (IoT).

However, as with any form of technology, IoT does have its fair share of challenges as far as cybercriminals are concerned. Where there is tech, there is data to steal, so hospitals must do their part to protect their patients and their personal data. Let’s talk a bit more about IoT and cyber protection.

The Rise of IoT Devices

In essence, IoT technology allows different devices to “talk” and work with one another to help doctors and patients have a closer and stronger relationship as they work through their medical issues. IoT devices in healthcare can either be implanted in patients or used externally to transmit medical information to doctors and vice versa.

Some of the more common medical IoT devices include wireless virtual monitors and smartpens, but recent technology is making incredible advances in devices we never thought possible. For instance, insulin pumps have been made IoT-friendly by allowing doctors to deliver multiple infusions at once and these pumps can even connect to the internet to relay information.

Medical IoT devices have many exciting benefits, including the ability for doctors to gauge a patient’s vitals from anywhere and the reduced need for patients to drive to their doctor’s office. However, if a doctor can access a device from anywhere, so can hackers and they can cause personal and sometimes life-threatening damage with a few keystrokes.

Why You Need to Prevent Hacks

All medical professionals must follow the guidelines set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which ensures the privacy of their patients. Along with that rule is the HIPAA security rule, which states that medical professionals must do everything in their power to protect the personal data and information of their patients. Failure to take the proper precautions could result in fines and even potential jail time to the offender.

Needless to say, the importance of deterring cybercriminals is key because it is not a matter of if hackers will target your medical practice and IoT devices, but when. Hackers are a constant threat to healthcare because the data that hospitals store is a goldmine. Anything from a patient’s social security number to their place of birth can be used for malicious means or be sold on the black market and allowing that to happen means putting your patients at risk.

While data can always be recovered, there are also health risks associated with the hacking of IoT devices. Think about it. If a cardiac device like a pacemaker is hit with a virus or denial of service attack, then the device could malfunction or stop working altogether, and the result could be deadly. It is sad to think about what doctors need to do just to prevent the actions of selfish criminals, but it must be done, and by being proactive, prevention is easier than it sounds.

Protecting Your IoT Devices

The first step for IoT device cybersecurity is to educate doctors and their associates about the potential threats and how to prevent them. Another reason that hackers target medical offices so often is that they are aware that not all doctors don’t take cybersecurity as seriously as they should. So this is a quick way to steal that precious data. Hospital administrators must provide educational materials and cybersecurity training to all doctors, nurses, and administrative personnel so they can be part of the solution.

Before a new IoT device is introduced, it is also important to have a cybersecurity expert test the new technology to ensure that it is protected. The testing process involves reviewing the programming, understanding and safeguarding the tool against all potential threats, and then putting it through rigorous evaluations to ensure its safety and reliability before it is used on humans.

It is important to remember that the key to IoT devices is their interconnectivity with other technology around them, so a hack on one device could lead the criminal to other devices and they can continue to create havoc around the entire system. To prevent the start of this chaos, all medical professionals must ensure that they secure all software and devices with strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and ensure that their credentials are never shared or leaked.

As you can see, the advent of the Internet of Things is a godsend to the world of medicine, but it is not without its risks. Heed the cautions discussed today, implement the proper protections, and keep hackers from threatening the medical advancements that can make the world a better place.