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How healthcare IoT is vulnerable to cyber security threats

Cloud security

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the trending buzzword in the digital world. It has set the virtual domain ablaze with its potential of bringing the entire world in the cusps of our hands through networks and interconnected devices.

These devices which constantly interact and share information with one another has much to offer to make cities, industries, healthcare, airports, homes and a multitude of other public spaces SMART.

An analysis of the possible applications of IoT in various sectors, from health to manufacturing, has revealed that if its potential is tapped judiciously, it can have a total economic impact of $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion a year by 2025!

IoT and healthcare

The World Health Organization (WHO) had raised a concern in the first half of 2017 about the expected dearth of health care professionals/workers by 2035 and the figures are as high as 12.9 million on a global level! Alarming and jarring isn’t it? However, we still have reasons to hope that one day we would not perish unattended when ailing because the healthcare sector is increasingly becoming more and more receptive to the applications of IoT.

IoT has a huge potential in the healthcare sector to mitigate the major problems of interoperability and interconnectivity of silos. It can be the game-changers for medical practitioners by facilitating automation for effective decision making and for empowering patients to have more control over their health and lifestyle.

This includes remote monitoring systems and emergency notification systems (mPERS) which are based on IoT. Some common examples are smart wristbands such as Fitbit, Apple Watch etc. which have become quite popular these days for monitoring blood pressure, heart rate, sugar levels and other health conditions that can aid doctors in treating chronic patients.

Some hospitals are even using smart beds which can provide information about the occupancy of the bed while also enabling its adjustment as per the patient’s needs without any physical help!

Ransomware tops the list of cyber threats for healthcare organizations

With the United Kingdom’s National Health Services (NHS) being the worst affected victim of the 2017 cyber attack by ransomware WannaCry, we are surely not exaggerating the fact that ransomware is by far the largest threat to the healthcare’s digital world! With the widespread penetration of IoT, the cyberspace has become even more vulnerable, since threats are now not just limited to computers and standalone devices but a host of other devices connected through IoT. It is noteworthy here that healthcare devices connected to IoT such as pacemakers or health bands if hacked can pose serious dangers to the patients and users!

No matter what the potential of IoT may be, the hard-hitting truth is that as of yet, devices used to power IoT are not completely secure. This is because the devices that are sheltered under one network are usually purchased from different manufacturers, all of whom have different security standards.

Therefore tracking, monitoring and scrutinizing them is indeed still a challenge. Research has found radiology imaging software, video conferencing systems, web-based call center websites, security systems and edge devices that include VPN applications and devices, firewalls and enterprise network controllers (ENCs) as the most commonly used access points for cyber criminals.

The hidden risks of mobile devices

Use of mobile devices in the healthcare industry has boomed in the last few years. Though it has reaped benefits for both patients and healthcare providers, the fact that these devices are dependent on the cloud for services such as storage, back-up and file sharing, make them more vulnerable to data breaches.

With research showing that 50% of smartphone users have at least one health app installed in their phones, and about 80% physicians are using smartphones and apps for medical consulting, cyber criminals sure have a reason to smile!

More and more organizations are encouraging Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) usage by medical staff and survey has it that 50% of such organizations are not even fully aware of the risks BYOD may pose to their cyber security!

How should the healthcare sector safeguard itself from IoT-specific attacks?

The first step towards IoT security should ideally be spreading awareness about an organization’s vulnerability to cyber threats and the need for a robust cyber security framework. The healthcare industry must prioritize the security of patients and their sensitive data apart from providing world-class healthcare facilities. To achieve this, IT heads within the healthcare industry should take data and cyber security as their top priority and implement suitable measures for identifying loopholes.

Anything that looks suspicious should be dealt with agility and immediate attention. Medical organizations should consider engaging a dedicated cyber threat management service provider to enable a constant monitoring of their IT risks and have suitable security measures in place.

Texial has a solution to offer

IoT when integrated with the rapidly developing Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) and applied in different healthcare solutions, actually has the potential of ameliorating the biggest problem of this sector – interoperability.

However, every solution comes with some inevitable problems. Although IoT health applications are well-intentioned, it being a network of interconnected devices, is inevitably quite vulnerable to data breaches and cyber attacks. It may sound scary but hackers these days are on a constant lookout to attack healthcare essentials.

Texial is a premier forensic science laboratory in Chennai and Bangalore, India, that provides services for cyber security analysis and assessment. Their services include IT Security and Risk Assessments, Website Security and Application Testing, Dark Web Monitoring and Penetration Testing among others. They also provide in-depth forensic investigation services in case of a data breach and other such cybercrimes.

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