Patient critical – healthcare’s cybersecurity pulse

August 2019 News, Cyber Security, Healthcare (Industry)

The healthcare industry has become one of the leading cybersecurity attack vectors worldwide.

Case 1 – The patient and his family appeared horrified. What had begun as a seemingly routine medical examination had turned into a nightmare. The man appeared healthy but had complained of persistent headaches. The CT scan showed what was diagnosed to be a massive tumour on the brain. Declining surgery, he still managed to get a substantial disability pay-out from his insurers who were unaware of his brilliance at writing computer programs.


Craig Rosewarne

Pending his nomination he undertook a thorough medical check-up and was declared fit as a fiddle. A month later he collapsed at a fundraising function and died of a major arterial embolism in the brain. The underworld rejoiced.

Do the above case scenarios sound strange? Not if one considers that researchers in Israel recently announced that they’d created a computer virus capable of adding or removing images of tumours into CT and MRI scans, malware designed to fool doctors into misdiagnosing low- to high-profile patients. This short video is scary yet fascinating: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mkRAArj-x0&feature=youtu.be

The healthcare industry has become one of the leading attack vectors worldwide for several reasons. Firstly, it maintains huge amounts of highly sensitive patient data, a juicy target for hackers who can use it for financial gain, humiliation or revenge. Access to a medical database would allow a miscreant to alter medical records, delete them or hold them hostage using ransomware.

Secondly, medical institutions are far more likely to accede to ransomware demands when patients’ lives are at stake. The healthcare industry increasingly relies on IoT (Internet of Things) technology that’s connected to the Internet, which ranges from patient records and lab results to radiology equipment. Even catering and down to maintenance of the hospitals are impacted. The 2017 WannaCry ‘epidemic’ caused chaos in the healthcare industry, the UK in particular being hard hit. Many institutions were found to still be running their systems on outdated, end-of-life, unpatched Windows XP devices.

Healthcare lags far behind other industries, experts say, unlike the financial sector, in the way it protects its information technology infrastructure. A healthcare failure can end with injury or even death, unlike finance which may involve a slap on the wrist or a fine.

Not a matter of when or if…

Medical institutions are being bombarded with malicious attacks every day. Many do not even know that they are already infected as many viruses can lay dormant or continue to seek new backdoors until activated. Advanced Persistent Threats (ATPs) are sometimes only discovered 18 months after breaching the system. Another major problem is that most medical personnel do not know what system devices are running on. Many service providers have gone out of business and patches, when provided, are often not implemented. Many small medical facilities do not have the budget for a full-time IT team and those in rural areas are at greater risk, especially if they are connected to the main urban centres. The country cousins can infect their city slickers – remember, everything is connected.

What other dangers do the health industries and medical devices face? Pacemakers have been proven to be easily hackable. The device can be instructed to speed up, slow down, behave in an erratic fashion or even shut down. ECGs, scanners and X-rays may give false readings or simply be unavailable. Hospitals’ and clinics’ emergency power generators can be disabled, preventing any tests, operations, etc. during a mains outage, which are a common occurrence here in sunny South Africa.

Why is the health industry lagging behind other enterprises? Low budgets play a major part, but the lack of awareness regarding the enormity of the threats from governments, decision makers down to grass-level employees is extremely worrying. The perceived attitude that no-one would be so callous as to attack a medical establishment and endanger human lives or cause fatalities is pervasive. Many hackers don’t care. The monetary rewards far outweigh any feelings of guilt or remorse.

There is a pulse, but it is very weak.


Credit(s)




Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page



Further reading:

Plan your media strategy with Technews Publishing
October 2019 , News
Dear Marketer, Have you ever looked back on a year and wondered how you survived it? For the majority of South Africans, 2019 started benignly enough, cosily wrapped in the blanket of Ramaphoria that ...

Read more...
The Open Security & Safety Alliance celebrates first anniversary
October 2019 , News
Membership triples within first 12 months; ongoing industry work reduces market fragmentation and friction across security and safety landscapes.

Read more...
AWS launches Equity Equivalent Investment Programme
October 2019 , News
Amazon Web Services launches Equity Equivalent Investment Programme with the department of trade and industry to help more South African businesses to innovate.

Read more...
2020 Residential Estate Security Conference in KZN
October 2019, Technews Publishing , News, Residential Estate (Industry)
Meeting the residential security challenges in 2020 and beyond: Hi-Tech Security Solutions will host the Residential Estate Security Conference 2020 in Durban on 12 March 2020.

Read more...
Kaspersky uncovers zero-day in Chrome
October 2019, Kaspersky Lab , News, Cyber Security
Kaspersky’s automated technologies have detected a new exploited vulnerability in the Google Chrome web browser.

Read more...
Drones and Digital Aviation Conference
October 2019 , News, Conferences & Events
Drones have opened airspaces for everyone in ways that humans had not imagined; to the extent that there is a drone to almost every kind of problem on earth. Drones already have the ability to increase ...

Read more...
From the editor's desk: More things change
CCTV Handbook 2019, Technews Publishing , News
Welcome to the CCTV Handbook 2019. This year’s handbook breaks a long tradition of publishing the handbook in the first half of the year by releasing it along with the October issue of Hi-Tech Security ...

Read more...
Cyber-securing your surveillance infrastructure
CCTV Handbook 2019, Genetec, Hikvision South Africa , Editor's Choice, CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring, Cyber Security
When it comes to cybersecurity, understanding the risks and the solutions as well as engaging in open communication helps everyone.

Read more...
From the editor's desk: Six-and-a-half impossible things
October 2019 , News
When it comes to people named Alice, there are two that are noteworthy in the greater scheme of things and specifically when it comes to security in South Africa. Interestingly enough, they both faced ...

Read more...
Keeping your things to yourself
October 2019, Technews Publishing , Editor's Choice, Cyber Security, Integrated Solutions, IT infrastructure
Three experts spoke to Hi-Tech Security Solutions to offer advice on keeping your IoT working for you and not for cyber criminals.

Read more...