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Artificial pancreas at risk of being hacked

Artificial pancreases controlled by software that run on mobile devices could face targeted security threats, US researchers have said.

Medical devices have advanced modern health care, but cybersecurity is often overlooked in emerging gadgets that could put patients’ lives at risk, the Cybersecurity in Artificial Pancreas Experiments study warned.

The findings show how artificial pancreas systems are prone to security vulnerabilities such as software integrity, malware or spyware, having analysed their technical characteristics and performance during experimental studies.

“We propose that the security vulnerabilities of medical device technology need to be better addressed by clinical researchers, funding agencies, regulators and journal editors, the study said.

“To date, there has been insufficient focus on medical device cybersecurity in the academic and clinical literature.” According to researchers this could lead to access to personal healthcare information or even device manipulation.

Talking about the research, Satish Garg, professor of pediatrics and medicine at Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said: “As the technology keeps advancing, we have to be vigilant about interference with medical devices, especially those that automatically control insulin infusion in the artificial pancreas.”

In February 2013, President Barack Obama issued a policy to reduce cybersecurity risk to critical infrastructure, including medical devices, which led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to come up with a set of guidelines specifically for AP systems.

Although these documents highlight some of the key concepts of cybersecurity, they don’t specify a minimum standard of encryption that should be achieved, according to researchers.

“Because these are guidelines, not regulations, the responsibility is often on the clinical research, group or company to ensure that best practice is followed while testing novel algorithms and hardware architectures in AP experiments,” they said.

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