Cybersecurity: Best Practices For Medical Device Vulnerability Assessments


In today's ever-evolving healthcare landscape, technology plays a crucial role in improving patient care and clinician workflows. However, with the integration of interconnected devices, the risk of data breaches is rising. In the first half of 2023, 295 breaches impacted over 39 million people, costing the industry over $10 million globally in 2022.

For healthcare organizations navigating this vulnerable environment, prioritizing medical device cybersecurity is essential. Cyberattacks jeopardize patient data and disrupt critical medical services, impacting both patients and healthcare providers. Robust cybersecurity measures, including regular vulnerability assessments, are crucial to detecting and preventing cyber threats and minimizing damage in the event of a breach.

Every healthcare cybersecurity program should conduct regular vulnerability assessments to identify and mitigate potential risks. Utilizing resources like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework can serve as a customizable guide for developing effective security protocols, ensuring the safety of hospitals, health systems, and the public's trust in the healthcare system.

Understanding today’s security risk landscape

In April 2023, Armis, an asset visibility and security company, released data indicating that nurse call systems, infusion pumps, and medicine dispensing systems rank as the three most vulnerable connected/IoT medical devices.

But the truth is that threats can affect almost any type of medical device. Larger healthcare organizations utilize thousands of medical devices made by many different OEMs, with a broad range of specifications and built-in security features. Keeping these sprawling networks protected presents a challenge.

Attacking a single medical device can’t do much harm. However, healthcare organizations utilize many medical devices made by different OEMs, with a broad range of specifications and network capabilities. Keeping these sprawling networks protected presents a challenge. Too often, malicious actors can use one device to access the entire network, including large, data-rich servers.

Common vulnerabilities found in medical devices include:

  • Insecure passwords
  • Weak authentication
  • Failure to install patches and software updates
  • Lack of encryption
  • Older devices and software

Healthcare organizations face various types of cyber threats, but the most common types are ransomware, data breaches, malware, and denial of service (DoS) attacks.

Best practices for robust vulnerability assessments

Understanding and evaluating vulnerabilities in medical devices is crucial for a robust cybersecurity strategy. The following practices are essential to ensure comprehensive assessments that reveal vital information and support effective cybersecurity measures.

  • Start with a Full Inventory:

Before conducting a security scan, create a detailed inventory of all medical devices, including those not currently in use. This prevents any overlooked vulnerabilities. Include device details such as age, make, model, software version, and patch history.

  • Evaluate Access Controls:

Limit interactions with medical devices to authorized personnel only. Evaluate access controls, authentication mechanisms, user roles, permissions, and login procedures. This identifies devices at higher risk of unauthorized access.

  • Examine Network Security:

Assess potential vulnerabilities in communication pathways between medical devices and other systems. Evaluate encryption protocols, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems to minimize cybersecurity risks.

  • Analyze Software and Data Storage:

Review the security of the software on all devices, ensuring it is protected against potential exploits. Confirm that all devices have up-to-date software updates and patches regardless of age. Additionally, assess data encryption, anonymization, and privacy measures to protect sensitive information.

  • Evaluate Physical Security:

Security breaches can happen on-site. Physically inspect assets and their locations to identify any risks related to location, physical condition, or port access that could compromise device security.

How to proactively mitigate cybersecurity risks

Defending against cyberattacks is best done proactively, addressing vulnerabilities before they become threats. This strategy employs a multi-level approach to protect systems and critical infrastructure from evolving cyber dangers.

  • Prioritize by Risk:

After a thorough security scan, categorize devices based on risk—considering security and clinical importance. This helps target immediate security gaps and guides technicians during and after a breach.

  • Craft an Incident Response Plan:

Develop a clear incident response plan with organization-wide protocols for detecting, reporting, and mitigating security incidents. Tailor instructions to clinical and non-clinical roles for a focused response.

  • Regular User Trainings:

Keep staff informed through periodic training sessions covering job-specific cybersecurity best practices. Ensure they stay updated on tech changes, device use, and incident response protocols.

  • Continuous Monitoring:

Employ automated continuous monitoring systems to detect and respond to emerging security threats in real time. These tools watch device behavior and network activity.

  • Collaborate with OEMs:

Work closely with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to address device vulnerabilities. OEMs may offer solutions beyond updates for devices with increased security risks.

Robust cybersecurity: always focus on the big picture

Given the sensitive nature of healthcare data and the critical role medical devices play in patient care, hospitals, and health systems can’t afford to drop the ball on security. By improving the identification and mitigation of potential risks, regular vulnerability assessments enhance the organization’s overall cybersecurity posture.

Cybersecurity matters to all healthcare providers. The Elite Biomedical Solutions blog regularly covers medical device cybersecurity topics. For more information about how hospitals can enhance security, we recommend starting with these:

How Biomed Techs Can Contribute to Cybersecurity

Medical Device Cybersecurity for Connected Infusion Pumps

How to Optimize Medical Device Cybersecurity in 2023

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