Author: Jeslyn Guo

Advanced medical devices have increasingly become connected to hospital networks and the internet. While these high-tech devices come with many benefits and have greatly improved healthcare, they also come with cybersecurity risks.

There are a few main types of medical devices that are widely used. The first is a stationary medical device such as an x-ray or mammography device, CT, MRI, or an ultrasound. These are devices that transmit images wirelessly to doctors and aid in making a diagnosis. The images can be stored on web-based services where patients and doctors can access them with ease.

The second type of medical device is an implanted medical device, such as a pacemaker, biosensor, or defibrillator. As the name would suggest, these remain in the body and can constantly monitor patients or aid in natural human processes. Usually, these devices are connected to the Internet using Wi-Fi so critical data can be sent directly to clinicians.

The last category of medical devices are wearable external medical devices, such as insulin pumps and skin patches. Smartwatches that monitor heart rate and fitness also fall into this category, although they are not critical in maintaining health. These external devices often use wireless connection to a remote controller to make them easy to use. For example, certain types of insulin pumps are controlled by another device to programmatically deliver insulin to improve blood sugar levels.

Medical technology is incredibly important and helps with the speed and accuracy of diagnoses, remote clinical monitoring, and even chronic disease and medication management. Technology can help replace staff shortages, as a device can provide 24/7 health monitoring if necessary. However, connected medical devices come with risks. Each of the three categories of devices are in some way connected to the internet or use wireless connection. Devices that are paired with phones, home Wi-fi, or the internet, can be hacked by a remote user who could potentially take control of the device and change its function. If clinicians can access patient data wirelessly through these devices, malicious hackers can as well.

Increasingly, medical device manufacturers and healthcare organizations are working together to ensure the safety of their devices. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides manufacturers with suggestions on how to manage issues with cybersecurity, as safety begins when the devices are created. It is essential that manufacturers balance device efficacy with cybersecurity requirements, as medical technology attacks could be life-threatening. Hospitals and healthcare providers also assist in providing security by evaluating systems and responding accordingly if security vulnerabilities are discovered.

Cybersecurity is necessary in almost every industry today, with medical technology being just one example. Protecting digital data and systems is essential for staying safe and where medical technology is concerned, it just might save a life.