FBI warns of vulnerabilities in medical devices following several CISA alerts
Jonathan Greig September 12, 2022

FBI warns of vulnerabilities in medical devices following several CISA alerts

FBI warns of vulnerabilities in medical devices following several CISA alerts

The FBI on Monday warned that hundreds of vulnerabilities in widely used medical devices are leaving a door open for cyberattacks.

In a white notice from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the law enforcement agency said it has identified “an increasing number” of vulnerabilities posed by unpatched medical devices that run on outdated software and devices that lack adequate security features.

The FBI specifically cited vulnerabilities found in insulin pumps, intracardiac defibrillators, mobile cardiac telemetry, pacemakers and intrathecal pain pumps, noting that malicious hackers could take over the devices and change readings, administer drug overdoses, or “otherwise endanger patient health.”

“Cyber threat actors exploiting medical device vulnerabilities adversely impact healthcare facilities’ operational functions, patient safety, data confidentiality, and data integrity,” the alert said. 

“Medical device vulnerabilities predominantly stem from device hardware design and device software management. Routine challenges include the use of standardized configurations, specialized configurations, including a substantial number of managed devices on the network, lack of device embedded security features, and the inability to upgrade those features.”

The FBI noted that medical device hardware is often used for more than 30 years at some healthcare facilities, giving cybercriminals and state actors ample time to discover and exploit bugs. 

Many legacy devices used by hospitals and clinics contain outdated software because they do not get manufacturer support for patches or updates, the FBI said, adding that many devices are not designed with security in mind. 

The white notice then quotes several reports from cybersecurity firms that highlighted the magnitude of the problem, most notably that about 53% of all connected medical devices and other internet of things (IoT) devices in hospitals had known critical vulnerabilities. 

One report found an average of 6.2 vulnerabilities per medical device and reported that more than 40% of medical devices are at the end-of-life stage, offering little to no security patches or upgrades.

The alert comes days after the multibillion-dollar healthcare company Baxter International notified customers of four vulnerabilities affecting their infusion pumps and WiFi batteries. CISA released its own advisory about the issues, the second they released last week related to medical devices. 

In March, Palo Alto Networks security researchers discovered that more than 100,000 infusion pumps were susceptible to two known vulnerabilities that were disclosed in 2019.

Infusion pumps have long been a source of ire for cybersecurity experts and vendors who have spent more than a decade trying to improve their security. Palo Alto noted that the Food and Drug Administration announced seven recalls for infusion pumps or their components in 2021 and nine more recalls in 2020.

Last year, German healthcare giant B. Braun updated several faulty IV pumps after McAfee discovered vulnerabilities allowing attackers to change doses.

Healthcare organizations continue to face a barrage of ransomware incidents and cyberattacks. Cybersecurity firm Proofpoint released a report last week that found 89% of healthcare professionals surveyed experienced at least one cyberattack in the last 12 months.

More than 20% of those attacked saw an increase in mortality rates and over half said the attacks caused longer patient stays, delays in procedures and overall decreases in the quality of care.

Jonathan has worked across the globe as a journalist since 2014. Before moving back to New York City, he worked for news outlets in South Africa, Jordan and Cambodia. He previously covered cybersecurity at ZDNet and TechRepublic.