The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called for medical device makers to protect their products from cyber attacks, Scientific American has reported. Because computer viruses, which are growing evermore common, do not differentiate between laptop computers or hospital machinery, there is growing concern that malware could affect everything from radiation therapy machines to ventilators.
The FDA highlighted a single weakness affecting approximately 300 medical devices, warning that hard-coded passwords that allow access to machines by technicians could cause problems if they fall into the wrong hands. In addition, even unintentional problems can occur as many medical devices run on software programs such as Windows and are therefore prone to the same viruses that affect home computers.
Since 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been tracking medical device infections. Thus far, there have been 327 incidents, none resulting in harm to patients but many costing hospitals significant sums of money. The trick is striking a balance between risk management, keeping hospital systems updated (a task that comes with its own set of risks), and medical device makers building more secure devices with better safeguards in place.