The Internet of Things (IoT) in healthcare offers many benefits, including giving providers the ability to monitor their patients more closely. On the consumer end, it allows medical devices like blood pressure cuffs, glucose meters, etc., to automatically send data to healthcare providers and make informed decisions to ensure there is no needed intervention in a patient’s treatment plan. However, there are security risks that medical companies need to be aware of when connecting IoT devices to the internet.
A group of researchers in 2016 hacked into an IoT-connected pacemaker and found that several life-threatening vulnerabilities stemmed from poor encryption and authentication practices. Being connected to the network of medical IoT devices, the entire system is connected to various infusion pumps, wearables, heart monitoring implants, and other medical devices. Hospitals have been implementing the IoT for years and have many of these devices in their electronic medical records, patient rooms, and various other cloud-based applications.
Since the healthcare industry is one of the fastest-growing users of IoT technology, it’s also important to adopt the best cybersecurity practices. Here are some of the most significant security issues that the healthcare industry faces regarding the Internet of Things, but first, what is IoT in healthcare?
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IoT Healthcare Devices
IoT technology allows healthcare providers to provide better patient care. It’s essential to understand what’s considered an IoT medical device to comprehend the importance of security for these devices fully. Widely-used IoT devices in the healthcare field include:
- Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuffs and weight scales: These IoT devices monitor and track patient symptoms and upload the results automatically to their physician.
- Insulin pens: Many diabetic patients use a Continuous Glucose Monitor to track their glucose levels. These monitors connect to the patient’s computer, smartphone, or smartwatch to track and detect blood sugar levels.
- Insulin delivery: These systems monitor and automatically deliver insulin to diabetic patients to keep their blood glucose levels in the safe range.
- Asthma inhalers: IoT technology incorporates sensors into asthma inhalers so that the people who need them can get relief regularly and consistently.
Many medical devices utilize IoT technology, and they all have one major feature in common: they connect to other devices over the internet to send and receive information. Security is essential to protect patient data and protect against potentially life-threatening changes to their medical devices.
Typically, only authorized personnel have access to a patient’s health information, but that data can get “eavesdropped” on while it moves across wireless networks. For instance, there are popular glucose monitoring and insulin delivery devices that utilize the IoT and wireless communication links. Those wireless links are often used in launching privacy attacks; because of this, it’s essential that the transferred data is encrypted and protected from outside sources.
Patient Privacy Exposure
One of the primary security issues that healthcare IoT adopters are facing is the problem of keeping patients’ personal health records confidential. These records, which contain individual electronic health information, get drawn from various sources and are then sent directly to the appropriate medical providers. Since they contain a vast amount of personal information, they are common targets for cyber attacks. These IoT medical devices must have adequate security measures in place to protect patient privacy.
Location privacy may not be on top of a healthcare facility’s security list, but it’s an important issue nonetheless. Location privacy is basically the concern of third-party eavesdropping on the data revealing a patient’s location. Many IoT applications route the location through randomly selected intermediate nodes to hide a patient’s location and keep it secure. Every single medical IoT device and software should adopt this (or another) method to ensure location privacy.
Most countries have laws in place to protect patient data, but they vary from location to location and aren’t always clear. For example, take fitness wearable devices that record things like heart rate, location, and even blood pressure in some cases—most people believe that this data that gets tracked and collected would be protected by data privacy laws, but in many cases, it’s not. Medical IoT devices need to take into consideration how they will protect a patient’s information and privacy; it’s not always protected by legislation.
Unauthorized Data Access & Access Control
Different users get assigned for different applications, and each one usually has a large number of users. Since most IoT medical devices store data in the cloud, the need for authentication technology is essential to protect against illegal user involvement and those unauthorized users accessing patient data. Access control is imperative for healthcare facilities to prevent any unauthorized entities from gaining access to not only their system’s data but their services hardware as well.
Medical Device Jacking
Deemed “medjacking” many healthcare organizations that utilize IoT medical devices are vulnerable to having their devices hijacked by a third party. Many IoT medical devices, especially older ones, aren’t much of a challenge for hackers to gain access to and steal sensitive data from a healthcare provider’s systems. Especially for devices that can send and receive data, the implications can be disastrous. Other than viewing patient information, unauthorized users that get access to these medical devices also gain the means to do things like access and change patient drug dosages.
The Importance of Security for IoT Healthcare Devices
Luckily, up to now, there haven’t been any known cases of hackers malicious tampering with IoT medical devices, but it is a real possibility. In addition to this, most healthcare facilities have legacy equipment and standalone devices that connect into networks using outdated systems and software. There’s an overall lack of awareness of many vulnerabilities that could be taken advantage of in these systems.
IoT medical devices are here to stay, and they’re making a significant positive impact in patient care, but it’s essential to ensure that the networks they rely on are safe and secure to protect critical information and access to the devices themselves.
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