Researchers easily crack Philips hospital IT system

A Philips information management system used in making hospital administrative chores more efficient contains vulnerabilities that can be exploited to gain full control of the product, a security vendor says.

Cylance disclosed the flaws in the Xper system Thursday at the S4 security conference in Miami, Fla. The product is typically integrated with multiple hospital systems, including databases.

Researchers Billy Rios and Terry McCorkle bought the system from a reseller, after they discovered it couldn't be bought directly from the manufacturer without a license. The device running the software had an inventory tag indicating it was from a Utah hospital, which the researchers declined to identify.

The first security problem was in the way the software, which runs on Windows XP, handles authentication. The researchers found three previously configured, password-protected user accounts, which they were able to easily crack using RainbowCrack. The well-known program is used in breaking cryptographic hash values that systems give to user names and passwords.

Once the credentials are obtained, a person would have full access to the Xper system, Rios said.

The second security hole was in the way the software takes incoming connections from medical systems over a particular port. The researchers used the "heap overflow" vulnerability to take control of the Xper product, Rios said.

"If we see an [Xper] system, then there's a couple of ways we can take it over," Rios said. "One is we know the passwords. And two, if we don't know the passwords, we can just use a heap overflow to take over the device anyway."

[See related: Ransom, implant attack highlight need for healthcare security]

Cylance notified the U.S. Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) of the vulnerabilities. The organization, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, then notified Philips.

In a statement, the company said the vulnerabilities were limited to an older version of the product. "Philips continues to explore the possible impact of the vulnerability based on continued investigation and new information obtained at the security conference," the company said.

Security experts have warned of the security problems with industrial control systems and medical devices for years. A lot of the software and hardware in use today were built before the Internet was introduced into hospitals.

For example, the Veterans Administration reported 173 security breaches of medical devices from 2009 to 2011, said Gienna Shaw, editor of FierceHealthIT. A 2012 General Accounting Office report found that wireless implanted medical devices such as defibrillators and insulin pumps for people with diabetes were vulnerable to hacking.

Read more about data protection in CSOonline's Data Protection section.

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