During a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., PC security experts claimed that the medical technology industry was experiencing a severe onslaught of viruses and malware – and this onslaught could be putting the health of patients at risk.
The statements about medical malware were made during a panel discussion called the Technology Review by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The panel suggested that virus infections on hospital computer systems were becoming so severe that patient health could be at risk.
Why is malware such a major problem for hospitals? Well, apparently, the problem has more to do with unpatched operating systems than with concentrated attacks by hackers. That’s right: hospital tech support is forgetting to update Windows and its antivirus software, and those oversights are placing patient safety at risk.
Even a slow computer could leave patients at risk
Sure, the chance of a virus directly causing the death of a patient might be slim. But think of how many hospitals there are across the United States. And think of how many patients these hospitals treat on a daily basis. Even if there is a slim chance of malware causing malpractice, the risk is still too high.
But to make the risk even more significant, a virus might not have to shut down a lifesaving system in order to kill a patient. Instead, one panellist at the Technology Review said that:
“[The] mere slowing down of the computer could cause the device to miss a sensor reading…Who’s watching out for that?”
In other words, the complex machinery that hospitals use is subject to the same computer slowdowns and glitches that computer users at home experience. While a computer slowdown on your home computer can be frustrating, it can be devastating on a computer at a hospital.
How many viruses are attacking hospitals?
In 2008, one report revealed that the British health care system had been infected by over 8,000 viruses over the past year. Today, that number has undoubtedly increased.
At the Technology Review, MIT panellists said that a single hospital in the United States – the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston – had 664 pieces of medical machinery running on out-dated versions of Windows, leaving these systems extremely susceptible to viruses.
The panel also revealed that one hospital was deleting viruses from two machines per week. In an average computer environment, this might not seem like a high number. However, in the medical environment, these machines are charged with saving patient lives every day. Obviously, you don’t want these machines to be infected with any viruses.
What does this mean for you?
In the future, maybe professional assassins will start to target computer systems as opposed to killing people the old fashioned way. After all, if the MIT panel is to be believed, hacking into medical computer security networks has never been easier. In any case, let’s hope medical network admins start to take note of this issue – and let’s hope hackers forget about it.