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The Scariest Part of the Internet of Things

An analysis of the security risks inherent in connected medical devices, and a look at some ways of counteracting them.

· IoT Zone

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With every new wearable device and every new item equipped with the capability to connect to the web, the Internet of Things (IoT) gets closer to becoming a reality. Indeed, the IoT has the potential to transform our lives in a way never before seen since the internet first gained popularity in the 90s. As exciting as that prospect is, there’s still a great deal of concern for the potential negative aspects that the IoT introduces. While connecting more items to the internet can lead to fascinating new innovations and greater convenience for consumers, a number of risks may enter the scene. None is more serious than the security concerns leveled at medical IoT devices. Experts may be working to make these new medical systems safe for everyone involved, the possible dangers of connecting these medical devices to the IoT make it an increasingly scary aspect of this revolutionary new area.

Studies have shown that the concerns over medical devices connecting to the IoT are justified. Researchers recently released findings showing that thousands of medical systems that have connections to the internet, some of them critical, from a major US health group were at risk from hackings. 68,000 of those systems had already been exposed to hackers, which could lead to possible attacks, if attacks hadn’t already been carried out. It’s important to note that this is just a small sampling; the actual number of medical devices that have access to the web is much higher nationwide and around the globe. The danger is real and it could have serious ramifications for patients and health organizations alike.

Hospitals have been more willing to embrace the mobile trend for their medical devices in recent years. This strategy carries with it a number of advantages, such as better patient care, more informed health professionals, and more efficient administration. Should an IoT medical device become hacked, however, those advantages now have to compete with dangerous risks. Many IoT health devices store and transmit sensitive health data. In cases where a device is hacked, that data could be exposed or stolen. Other information, such as details on organizational operations and the locations of the devices, could be exposed as well. Hackers may also choose to infect devices with malware, which could lead to those devices malfunctioning. Imagine if a device in charge of dispensing medicine to a patient were to dispense too much, too little, or not at all. The patient’s health could be adversely affected. Or imagine hackers getting control of an IoT-enabled pacemaker. Again, the patient’s life could be in danger.

So serious and frightening is this threat that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has become more vocal about it. The FBI even issued an official warning in September, noting the risks that are posed from wearable health devices. The FBI goes as far as to say skilled hackers could even change the coding within the devices, creating a more malicious attack than a simple hack targeting health data could. Another area of concern is how IoT health devices could be used as a gateway to other vulnerable systems, compromising entire networks and placing even more data at risk.

Preventing these types of attacks is no easy matter in an age of advanced technology and hyperconvergence. The security landscape is constantly evolving, with new hacking techniques developed with regularity. Many IoT device manufacturers have only recently begun to take issues of security more seriously, but safeguarding the wide variety of devices out there is a complex undertaking. Consumer also lack general awareness of what the dangers are and often increase security risks through their behavior and actions. IoT devices have become more pervasive as well, so security advances need to be made to counter the hacking environment.

That’s not to say the security challenges for IoT medical devices are insurmountable. In the same way these devices use big data to monitor health, big data and related tools like Hadoop and MapReduce can be utilized to detect security violations and prevent damage. Even so, hacking a medical device is more concerning than other devices since people’s health is so closely linked to it. Time will tell if the threat can be effectively defeated, allowing the Internet of Things to continue to spread.

The IoT Zone is brought to you in partnership with GE Digital.  Discover how IoT developers are using Predix to disrupt traditional industrial development models.

internet of things,connected devices,security

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