Hijacked medical devices can leave networks exposed

Hacked medical devices can pose dangers to patients, but they can also serve as lairs from which malware finds its way into medical facilities' networks and persists even after initial attacks have been cleaned up.

Hacked medical devices can pose direct dangers to patients but also serve as lairs from which malware finds its way into medical facilities' networks and persists even after initial attacks have been cleaned up, according to a new report.

Because these devices haven't been designed with security as a priority, they have proven readily hackable. Beyond the immediate risk to patients, compromised connected devices can be used as a way to undermine other devices and steal valuable data, according to a report from TrapX.

The problem is compounded by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restrictions that limit adding security to these devices, uncertain cooperation from vendors who make them and the attractiveness of medical information as a target, the report says.

Once compromised, these devices can be used to launch broader attacks against host networks. Because it may be difficult to detect malware on these devices, the malware can survive efforts to clean up the broader attacks. Then the hacked device can serve as a backdoor to launch further incursions. "The whole idea is to maintain persistence in the target environment," says Greg Enriquez, CEO of TrapX.

Finding this malware and cleaning it up is made difficult by FDA rules that require these systems to be closed. "As FDA certified systems, they are not open for the installation of additional third-party software by the hospital staff," according to the TrapX report, so monitoring software can't be added. "You cannot easily detect malware on a system which you cannot scan."

The devices investigated by TrapX were critical to delivering healthcare, making it difficult to schedule time for remediation. "The outgoing IP addresses can be shut down, but removal of the malware is a tricky proposition," the report says. "Hospitals really don't want to impact the operation of these systems they depend on these medical devices on a 24 hour, 7 day per week basis."

The very presence of these devices in networks may make the networks less secure, and attackers are drawn to these networks by the medical information they contain. "For all of these reasons we expect targeted attacks on hospitals to increase throughout 2015 and 2016," the report says.

The TrapX report details three medical-device hacks at facilities it does not name for reasons of confidentiality. One involved blood-gas analyzers in a lab being used as a backdoor into the network. A second details the compromise of picture archive and communications system (PACS) that stores radiology images and makes them available to doctors and so is very well connected within the network. The third involved a backdoor installed in an X-ray system.

The FDA is aware of these issues with medical devices and has said it will waive restrictions on some types of medical devices. In particular, as of February 2015 it is loosening up on regulations for medical device data systems (MDDS) such as the PACS described in the TrapX report.

The FDA didn't do away with the regulations, it just stated that it won't enforce them, which means that from a network security standpoint, hospitals have more freedom to alter them in order to better secure them as network-attached devices. Even if those alterations adversely affect their functioning, the danger to patients is low, according to the FDA reasoning.

As part of its investigation, TrapX showed how it could compromise a particular blood-gas analyzer and use it to pivot to other devices on the target network. The NOVA Critical Care Express was the device, which used Windows 2000 as its operating system.

Enriquez says that he hasn't seen it in practice, but ransomware criminals targeting common operating systems could go after medical devices that use them, encrypting them and demanding payment for keys to unlock them.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securitybecaTrapXhealth careindustry verticals

More about

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Tim Greene

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place