The WiFi wand is no magic solution

15 March 2016

Researchers at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, USA, developed hardware that enables medical devices to securely connect to WiFi networks.

Due to its wand-like appearance, the system has been dubbed the magic wand of medical technology (MedTech). Unfortunately, there is little that is magical about the device. While it does address the problem the MedTech and healthcare sectors are facing in regards to cybercrime, there is much more that needs to be done to secure medical hardware.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a reality in the healthcare sector, it is true that critical medical devices are becoming more and more vulnerable to third-party attacks. However, this is only partially due to the wireless connectivity. IoT has driven an increase in the number of portable and wearable MedTech devices in clinical use, which are prime targets for component counterfeiting.

It goes without saying that counterfeit parts, especially batteries, can undermine the safety of a device in a way that is arguably more dangerous than cyber infiltration. Grey market components are often cheaper and, as a consequence, are unable to perform to the same rated tolerances as legitimate products. If a portable defibrillator fails to sufficiently deliver a high-discharge shock during routine operation as the result of a fake battery, the consequences don’t bear thinking about.

To combat this, Accutronics includes algorithmic security in its range of pre-engineered battery solutions. Here, a cryptographic algorithm is programmed into both the medical device and into all authorised batteries. If a fake battery is used in any of these medical devices it is quickly identified and the device rejects it.

It’s innovations like this that aid the healthcare sector in becoming a safer environment for patients and practitioners. It’s important that medical decision makers do not get swept up in the rush to secure connectivity at the cost of hardware security. Only by considering both can it be ensured that patients safely get the quality of care they need.

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