Malware threatens medical machines and systems

Computer viruses are worming their way into everything from fetal monitors to radiology image archiving.

Hospitals are reporting a new threat of infection -- from computer malware.

Computer viruses are worming their way into everything from fetal monitors to radiology departments’ picture archiving and communication systems, which store and share images from X-rays and other diagnostic equipment, reports Technology Review, a publication of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kevin Fu, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, raised the red flag on Oct. 18, during a panel meeting of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board, according to the report. Malware attacks threaten thousands of network-connected devices, Fu reportedly said at the meeting. An increase in the number of such attacks poses challenges for hospital IT departments.

Health IT experts have had trouble countering the attacks because manufacturers of devices frequently ban modifications to their equipment, including virus protection, Technology Review reported. Interconnected medical equipment often runs on Microsoft Windows operating systems that are vulnerable to viruses.

Manufacturers fear that modifications, including installation of updated versions of Windows that fix many security vulnerabilities, will jeopardize devices’ Food and Drug Administration approval status, according to the report.

One hospital IT executive told the publication that trying to protect all of a hospital’s software-controlled equipment would require the installation of more than 200 firewalls. Mark Olson, chief information security officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, said his hospital has 664 pieces of medical equipment on which manufacturers will not allow software modifications or updates, according to the report.

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