Hacking Humans: Addressing Vulnerabilities in the Advancing Medical Device Landscape

As technology advances, the health care critical infrastructure sector comprises much of the potential attack surface of the national security landscape. Medical devices are being fitted with “smart” technology in order to better serve patients and stay at the forefront of health technology. However, medical devices that enable connectivity, like all other computer systems, incorporate software that is vulnerable to threats.

Medical device recalls increased 126% in the first quarter of 2018, mostly due to software issues and vulnerabilities. Abbott and Bayer, among other medical device companies, had recalls on devices based on weaknesses discovered by both government security entities and academic institutions. These devices, which included pacemakers, infusion pumps, and MRI machines, were found to have vulnerabilities ranging from buffer overflow bugs to the presence of hard-coded credentials that easily lent to unauthorized access of proprietary information.

A breach of any one of these devices could compromise data confidentiality, integrity, and availability, as well as patient safety. In order to mitigate these types of vulnerabilities, the FDA has issued a guidance, as well as a vulnerability scoring system, in order to assess impact. This system assesses the attack vector, the complexity, risk and severity of both patient harm and information compromise, and the remediation level. By utilizing a more rigid system along these guidelines, there is hope that the threat of a medical device attack will be diminished.

This talk will explore some of the past and current vulnerabilities facing the medical device industry, and the steps that the FDA is taking to mitigate these risks.