Students learning to hack, improve security of hospital medical devices

CSRA News

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– The push to protect your personal health information is front and center at the Georgia Cyber Center this week.

Students are learning how to hack into medical devices and uncover weak spots in a hospital’s cyber security.

“They’re really focused on blocking and tackling right now. How do you secure these medical devices that are all now connected to the internet? Augusta University has taken on to lead a medical device security initiative,” executive director of the Georgia Cyber Center, Eric Toler said.

In the past, medical devices could only be accessed physically, but now they communicate over wireless networks.

“And that adds to the vulnerabilities that are in those devices, so we’re looking at ways to help make those devices more secure,” head of the Cyber Program of Study, Dr. Michael Nowatkowski said.

Dr. Nowatkowski is teaching his students to be on the cutting edge of medical device security.

“As we’re making these devices more and more network enabled, the importance for people who know how to communicate and make these devices more secure is becoming more important,” Dr. Nowatkowski said.

Students are uncovering weaknesses in infusions pumps that administer medicine, glucose monitors, CPAP devices, implanted pacemakers, and X-ray machines.

“We wouldn’t want someone hacking into those devices and changing their behavior, which may administer too much medicine to you or not enough, or may do other actions that would cause the patient harm,” Dr. Nowatkowski said.

And they’re testing the security of hospital patient records.

“You wouldn’t want your medical history or your medical conditions broadcast out for everyone to be able to see,” Dr. Nowatkowski said.

This week, Dr. Nowatkowski is lecturing on medical device security at the Georgia Cyber Center’s inaugural Critical Infrastructure Cyber Security conference. He’s discussing how these devices could be used to launch ransomware or to breach patient data.

The conference wraps up Wednesday.


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