The world has witnessed several instances where countries fight each other for power, territory, resources, and more. First world countries have dedicated budget for military spending, predominantly invested in R&D.

While countries are ready to face attacks in the form of weaponries, their readiness to handle a tech war needs to be scrutinized. It needn't be other countries that launch a tech war. Even a frustrated technology expert can launch a massive cyberattack that can disrupt normalcy in a country.

The world has recently witnessed state-sponsored cyberattacks as well, meaning, that even countries can take aggressive measures to launch an attack on rival countries.

Compared to other industries, a cyberattack in the healthcare sector is most impactful. This is because the targets are often critical medical devices.

How lifesaving devices can turn into super villains

Information technology has been extensively used in the medical fields, from maintaining digital records of patients to supporting pivotal devices like pacemakers. Devices dependent on IT have several advantages over manual, non-technical products, but the possibility that an advanced-IT lifesaving device can turn into a serial killer cannot be overlooked.

For instance, assume that an organization produces implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs). These devices come with a computer chip that has a RAM, a programmable software, a capacitor, etc. The manufacturer configures the software to get accurate and real-time results.

The primary function of ICDs is to use electric shocks to provide therapy when the heart rate exceeds a predetermined rate. If a hacker gains access to the device, and increases the intensity of the shock delivered by the device, the possibility of the patient suffering a massive heart attack cannot be overlooked.

Now, imagine if the hacker infiltrates the database of all the patients with an ICD implanted in them. IIt will be like wearing a blindfold when bowling. You wouldn't necessarily know where your target is.

The healthcare industry uses resources ranging from the cloud to advanced technologies like robotics, and artificial intelligence for various purposes. Devices, like defibrillators and pacemakers, work on configurable software. These devices, if misused, can cause major health problems.

Technologies used in healthcare

These technologies have benefited healthcare to a great extent. However, the possibility of an attacker compromising or exploiting vulnerabilities in them cannot be ignored.

  • Cloud: The cloud is extensively used in healthcare to store sensitive information and to develop custom applications that track the medical journey of a patient and suggest required treatments using workflows.
  • Artificial intelligence: AI is used for various purposes, such as detecting cancer, analyzing images to identify the nature of disease, and identifying indicators of diabetes.
  • Robotics: Robotics are used to help surgeons conduct precise surgeries and build body parts, such as limbs, that can respond to signals from the brain.
  • Block chain: This can be used to store patient information securely. Any modifications made will be recorded to ensure security of data.
  • Virtual reality: Virtual reality is being used to calm patients undergoing surgery by helping them visit a different place while the surgery proceeds. It's also used to train surgeons to conduct surgeries without using an actual body.

How attackers capitalize on healthcare data

It's essential to ensure the security of healthcare data because cyberattackers are increasingly resorting to devious means to profit.

  • Selling information on the dark web: If an attacker manages to crack through a system and gather sensitive information, they can sell this information on the dark web for a good price.
  • Selling the idea: If an attacker develops an idea on how to trigger an attack, similar to the use case we discussed above, they might sell this idea to a malicious organization or state to obtain money.
  • Partnering with medicine companies: Assuming an attacker manages to manipulate the test results of a patient, they can partner with a company that sell medicines for the particular disease and deviously earn profit for every manipulated result.

Reiterating the need for determining a cyber risk score

In a previous blog, we had discussed how a cyber risk score helps organizations quantify cyber resilience. Similarly, it's essential to assign a risk score to all the devices used in the healthcare industry.

For instance, an MRI scanner purchased can have a lower, meaning safer, risk score compared to a defibrillator, or an artificial kidney that is implanted inside the human body. Further, there should also be a process to monitor these devices and identify if any of them have been compromised.

Though having an incident management system in place for such devices is far-fetched currently, considering the extensive and increasing use of technology in healthcare, it could become essential soon.

With cutting edge technology, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, it is now possible to do many things one wishes to do in this world. While these technologies were invented to benefit human lives, they might become the underlying cause of societal chaos in the near future.

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