Tackling Cybersecurity for Medical Devices

By Eddie Myers, Crothall Healthcare Director of Cybersecurity (Healthcare Technology Solutions Division)

The rapid digitization of the healthcare industry has revolutionized patient care, with imaging devices playing a critical role in diagnostics and treatment. As medical devices, especially imaging equipment, become more sophisticated, they become more susceptible to cyber threats. Hospital CIOs are at the forefront of safeguarding patient data and ensuring uninterrupted medical services. Hospital CIOs and Independent Service Organizations can work together to proactively address cybersecurity for medical devices to protect patient privacy, uphold regulatory compliance, and maintain the integrity of their institutions.

The Importance of Limiting Access to Medical Devices. Control medical device access among your staff to avoid security breaches. Robust access controls ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive patient data and adjust device settings. Role-based access controls, multi-factor authentication, and strong password policies safeguard against unauthorized access. Limiting staff access to medical assets, such as nuclear medicine cameras, MRI machines, computers, and other medical equipment, can help lower your risk of cybersecurity threats.

Even a seemingly harmless act, such as viewing a flash drive, can have serious consequences without proper security measures. Imagine a healthcare worker needs to view a flash drive. The flash drive was not scanned for malware before it was brought into the hospital, and the computer used to view the data does not have the same level of IT security as the computers in the radiology department. As a result, the healthcare worker could unknowingly install harmful malware. The potential breach could go undetected, compromising the privacy of patient data and disrupting the hospital’s operations.

As technology advances, hospital CIOs and independent service organizations recognize that cybersecurity for imaging devices is an ongoing and critical responsibility.

What To Consider When Limiting Access to Medical Devices. Suppose a piece of medical equipment has software and a wired or wireless connection. In that case, it is vulnerable to a variety of cyberattacks, including malware infections, data breaches, and denial-of-service attacks. 

Cybersecurity is an essential part of any healthcare facility’s budget. Healthcare facilities collect and store a lot of sensitive data. This data is a valuable target for cyber attackers. Cybersecurity is not a one-time endeavor. It is a continuous process of working closely with your IT security teams to develop a comprehensive strategy tailored to address the unique challenges posed by networked medical devices.

Implementing the appropriate security measures and policies can be expensive. This encompasses risk assessments, threat modeling, and vulnerability analysis to identify potential weak points in the network and imaging or other medical device infrastructure. Make sure your healthcare facility considers cybersecurity as part of its budget process. It may be more challenging for rural hospitals to handle these expenses and the planning that comes with a comprehensive cybersecurity plan. While rural hospitals may face challenges in budgeting for comprehensive cybersecurity, they must not underestimate the importance of safeguarding patient data and medical equipment. Rural hospitals can establish a robust cybersecurity framework that aligns with their unique needs and financial realities by exploring creative solutions, collaborating with external experts, and strategically allocating resources.

Build a Culture of Security. Ensuring staff compliance with security measures is vital. Regular reminders and clear rules in the employee handbook reinforce cybersecurity protocols. Conduct periodic reminders and updates about cybersecurity policies. Send out emails and notifications or conduct brief refresher sessions to reinforce the protocols and keep them fresh in employees’ minds. This approach helps to prevent complacency and reinforces the message that cybersecurity is an ongoing concern.

Tips for Keeping Medical Devices Secure.

Passwords and Tiered Access. We all recognize that passwords should be at least eight characters long, include a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and be changed every 3-6 months. Even better, to provide an additional layer of security, initiate multi-factor authentication requiring users to provide two or more pieces of identification to log in to a system.

Likewise, the level of access required for each user will vary depending on their roles and responsibilities. Tiered access can help to protect sensitive data and prevent unauthorized access. The best approach to implementing tiered access will vary depending on your organization’s needs. Regularly review permissions to ensure they continue to align with current roles and responsibilities. Roles and responsibilities within a hospital can change quickly, so a tiered access approach is not a “set it and forget it” solution.

Staff Training and Education. We must recognize the human element as a potential weakness in the cybersecurity chain. As a result, investing in regular training and education for all hospital staff is imperative. This includes healthcare professionals, administrators, and support staff. Employees educated about phishing attacks, social engineering tactics, and best practices for data security foster a culture of vigilance and promote cybersecurity awareness. When you train your staff about preventive cybersecurity measures and create protocols for access to medical equipment, you lower your healthcare facility’s risk of security breaches. These precautions can ensure your patients’ equipment is working correctly and their personal information is safe and secure.

Engage Patients in Your Cybersecurity Strategy. In addition to educating your staff about proper medical equipment usage, involving patients in safeguarding their own devices is important. The FDA advises caregivers and patients to be proactive in device safety. This involves being conscious of the need for periodic software updates on their devices. The FDA also suggests that patients register their devices with the manufacturer. By doing so, patients can receive vital notifications about recalls or software updates directly from the manufacturer. Patients should also familiarize themselves with the functioning of their devices and promptly notify their medical provider if they encounter any issues.

As technology advances, hospital CIOs and independent service organizations recognize that cybersecurity for imaging devices is an ongoing and critical responsibility. By creating comprehensive strategies, conducting thorough risk assessments, implementing robust access controls, ensuring timely updates, encrypting data, segmenting networks, conducting vendor security assessments, and prioritizing staff education, CIOs can strengthen their institutions against cyber threats. Remain vigilant in safeguarding patient data, maintaining regulatory compliance, and securing the trust of patients and stakeholders alike.

Visit Crothall.com to learn how Crothall’s Healthcare Technology Solutions can help protect your hospital’s medical devices from cyberattacks.