Recent hacks highlight importance of strong cybersecurity measures as medical devices become increasingly remote-accessible during the Covid-19 pandemic

GlobalData Healthcare 22 January 2021 (Last Updated January 22nd, 2021 08:44)

Recent hacks highlight importance of strong cybersecurity measures as medical devices become increasingly remote-accessible during the Covid-19 pandemic
The threat of cyberattacks extends beyond hospitals. Credit: Shutterstock.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote care solutions by physicians and policy makers, improving patient care. However, recent large-scale cyberattacks that targeted the healthcare industry have underscored the importance of robust cybersecurity technology and protocols. As healthcare devices become increasingly technologically sophisticated, device manufacturers and healthcare providers need to ensure that cybersecurity measures are scaled up accordingly.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, countries around the world enacted lockdown measures and social distancing protocols to slow the spread of the disease. As a result, physicians have had to adapt to using remote care solutions like telehealth and remote patient monitoring to continue providing care while minimising patient risk.

However, increasing reliance on software solutions increases the risk of cyberattacks, a threat that has continued to increase in recent years. In these attacks, confidential personal information can be breached, exposing patient health records, personal information, and finances. These attacks can also cause life-threatening complications for healthcare facilities. In 2017, the WannaCry ransomware infected UK hospitals, locking hospital information systems and forcing ambulances to be re-routed. Similarly, a September 2020 ransomware attack in Germany forced ambulances to re-route to uninfected hospitals and resulted in the death of a critically ill patient.

The threat of cyberattacks extends beyond hospitals. In December 2020, the European Medicines Agency revealed that it was the victim of a hack and that information on the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was accessed. The same month, IBM’s threat intelligence task force reported that cold supply chain organisations involved in the distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were being targeted by malicious actors. While the immediate threat to vaccine distribution is clear, future attacks against regulatory agencies and distributors could potentially compromise entire product lines, or damage public trust in regulatory approvals.

The increased adoption of remote care solutions by care providers and policy makers will result in a higher standard of patient care. Physicians can more easily access real-time patient health data and quickly communicate with patients regardless of physical location. However, it is imperative that healthcare providers balance their investment in new technology with investment in cybersecurity measures and staff training. Otherwise, these solutions may end up causing more harm than good.