Are Hospital Hackings the Next Great Terror Threat?
Hospitals are more-vulnerable to cyberattacks than most people think, and the ramifications can be widespread and catastrophic. Not only can an attack compromise data storage, such as medical records and personal information about patients, but it could also paralyze systems that are used throughout the course of treatment. While many hospitals have contingency plans in place for when computers go down, few have been tested in real-world conditions during the midst a crisis.
Consequently, it is difficult to predict how hospitals would cope in that type of situation. Not only would an attack slow down the process of delivering medical care, but it could also place strain on other hospitals nearby as they absorb patients that can not be seen at the affected facility. Very few people have an appreciation of how one attack, at one hospital, could throw the entire local or regional healthcare infrastructure into complete disarray.
Global Attack Tests Waters
Keep in mind that we just experienced a global attack that actually targeted hospitals. While the damage was relatively minimal, it served as an opportunity for hackers to test the waters and apply what they’ve learned to future attacks. It also publicly exposed the vulnerabilities that plague the healthcare system and how they ultimately impact patient care.
What has officials concerned is that while attacks have yet to penetrate networks that interact with patient care, they are hitting a little too close to home. The latest attack paralyzed patient registration systems and prevented access to medical records. Screens froze up and were covered with displays telling victims to deposit a certain amount of crypto-currency into an account. The computers would be unlocked once payment was made.
Some hospitals decided to make the payment in order to get their systems up and running as quickly as possible. Others waited until security and IT personnel were able to work through the problem. At the end of the day, some patients had to wait hours for treatment whereas others were turned away or directed to other facilities.
Taking Things to the Next Level
The next attack will most-likely target healthcare delivery systems instead. This can mean that anything from video displays in operating rooms to CT and MRI scanners or heart monitors can all be compromised. It could target the networks that are used to relay patient-care information in real-time, such as tablets that doctors use to order labs or prescribe medicines. Imagine the chaos that would ensue of these or similar networks were suddenly inaccessible. Imagine the nightmarish scenario that could unfold if hackers were able to access and alter information that travels through these networks as well.
We’ve quickly evolved from an analog healthcare system that was highly-reliable to a digital one that is proving to be highly-efficient. However, we are also paying a big price in terms of our safety for the sake of convenience or cost-savings. The problem isn’t necessarily the use of technology, rather our reliance on it without adequate protections in place to keep us safe.
Can You Fend for Yourself?
This is why it’s so important to be able to intervene and deal with emergency medical situations during periods of crisis. Chances are that they will occur with little or no warning, and it will be difficult to know how to respond until the situation presents itself. We’re not saying that you need to get advanced medical training, but you should have enough familiarity with basic first aid as well as knowledge of how to deal with emergencies that may be pertinent to you and your family. It’s really easy to assume that 911, paramedics and hospitals will always be there when we need them. However, it only takes one hacking to paralyze, compromise and possibly decimate the entire system. For us, we should not think of this in terms of if, rather when. Chances are that such an attack is already on the radar of cyberterrorists who are just waiting for the opportunity to strike.