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Are hospitals taking cybersecurity seriously?

Like credit card companies or retail stores, hospitals owe it to their customers to protect financial information to protect against identity theft and fraud. Unlike those institutions, hospitals may be in possession of data so sensitive it can make the difference between life and death.

A recent ransomware attack is drawing attention to just how vulnerable many hospital computer networks are. In the UK last month, hackers were able to shut down 65 hospitals, endangering countless patients. Not only were the hospitals' computers shut down, but also medical testing equipment and refrigeration units. One cybersecurity expert has listed hospitals and health care businesses as the new most-targeted industry in the world.

Frightening vulnerability

A computer system without proper security could provide hackers with information that could cost patients their lives. Medical devices, such as pacemakers, could be made to malfunction. Hackers could take control of these devices and hold patients hostage. Access to hospital computers could allow hackers to change medication orders, or cause bedside infusion pumps to give fatal amounts of medication. The potential for harm is tremendous.

Easy targets

Part of the problem is that hospitals have made themselves, and their patients, easy prey for hackers. Estimates suggest that less than 20 percent of hospitals have someone on staff capable of addressing cybersecurity issues. Hospitals and device manufacturers often rely on outdated systems that can't repel even unsophisticated attackers. The health care industry has not invested sufficient resources into protecting themselves and their customers from cybersecurity threats. 

Medical devices can be expected to last anywhere from a few months to several decades. The makers of these devices owe it to consumers to ensure that the devices are safe. That includes making sure the devices are safe from hackers.

Hospitals owe a duty of care to their patients that includes protecting them from exposure to manipulation from hackers.

Source: ABC News, "Fears of hackers targeting US hospitals, medical devices for cyber attacks," by Dan Harris, John Kapetaneas, Robert Zepeda and Lauren Effron, 29 June 207

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