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More Than Half of All Healthcare IoT Devices Have a Known, Unpatched Critical Vulnerability

A recent study by the healthcare IoT security platform provider Cynerio has revealed 53% of connected medical devices and other healthcare IoT devices have at least one unaddressed critical vulnerability that could potentially be exploited to gain access to networks and sensitive data or affect the availability of the devices. The researchers also found a third of bedside healthcare IoT devices have at least one unpatched critical vulnerability that could affect service availability, data confidentiality, or place patient safety in jeopardy.

The researchers analyzed the connected device footprints at more than 300 hospitals to identify risks and vulnerabilities in their Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) and IoT devices. IV pumps are the most commonly used healthcare IoT device, making up around 38% of a hospital’s IoT footprint. It is these devices that were found to be the most vulnerable to attack, with 73% having a vulnerability that could threaten patient safety, service availability, or result in data theft. 50% of VOIP systems contained vulnerabilities, with ultrasound devices, patient monitors, and medicine dispensers the next most vulnerable device categories.

The recently announced Urgent11 and Ripple20 IoT vulnerabilities are naturally a cause for concern; however, there are much more common and easily exploitable vulnerabilities in IoT and IoMT devices. The Urgent11 and Ripple20 vulnerabilities affect around 10% of healthcare IoT and IoMT devices, but the most common risk was weak credentials. Default passwords can easily be found in online device manuals and weak passwords are vulnerable to brute force attacks. One-fifth (21%) of IoT and IoMT devices were found to have default or weak credentials.

The majority of pharmacology, oncology, and laboratory devices and large numbers of the devices used in radiology, neurology, and surgery departments were running outdated Windows versions (older than Windows 10) which are potentially vulnerable.

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Unaddressed software and firmware vulnerabilities are common in bedside devices, with the most common being improper input validation, improper authentication, and the continued use of devices for which a device recall notice has been issued. Without visibility into the devices connected to the network and a comprehensive inventory of all IoT and IoMT devices, identifying and addressing vulnerabilities before they are exploited by hackers will be a major challenge and it will be inevitable that some devices will remain vulnerable.

Many medical devices are used in critical care settings, where there is very little downtime. More than 80% of healthcare IoT devices are used monthly or more frequently, which gives security teams a small window for identifying and addressing vulnerabilities and segmenting the network. Having an IT solution in place that can provide visibility into connected medical devices and provide key data on the security of those devices will help security teams identify vulnerable devices and plan for updates.

Oftentimes it is not possible for patches to be applied. Oftentimes healthcare IoT devices are in constant use and they are frequently used past the end-of-support date. In such cases, the best security alternative is virtual patching, where steps are taken to prevent the vulnerabilities from being exploited such as quarantining devices and segmenting the network.

Segmenting the network is one of the most important steps to take to improve healthcare IoT and IoMT security. When segmentation is performed that takes medical workflows and patient care contexts into account, Cybnerio says 92% of critical risks in IoT and IoMT devices can be effectively mitigated.

Most healthcare IoT and IoMT cybersecurity efforts are focused on creating a comprehensive inventory of all IoT and IoMT devices and gathering data about those devices to identify potential risks. “Visibility and risk identification are no longer enough. Hospitals and health systems don’t need more data – they need advanced solutions that mitigate risks and empower them to fight back against cyberattacks, and as medical device security providers, it’s time for all of us to step up,” said Daniel Brodie, CTO and co-founder, Cynerio.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.