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Phoenix doctors: Protect your medical devices against hacking

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

PHOENIX — A pair of Phoenix doctors says people must be more aware of potential hacking on their medical devices.

“We know that more people than ever have medical devices,” said pediatrician Dr. Jeffrey Tully. “We [also] know, through the work of security researchers, that some of these devices have vulnerabilities.”

Dr. Christian Dameff said many items, like pacemakers and insulin pumps, save lives and improve their quality. However, more and more such devices are connected to the internet. And that, he said, can compromise many people.

“If your pacemaker stops working – depending on why you have a pacemaker – you may not feel the effects of [hacking] immediately,” he said. “However, with things like insulin pumps … If you don’t have insulin going into you for multiple days, you can get really sick.

“The promise of technology is amazing; it’s saved countless lives. We’re not going to stop using technology in advancing the capabilities of medical devices any time soon. Nor should we. But, what we should do, is employ certain security features, have good design practices, and be aware of this problem.”

Tully said he and Dameff are not trying to frighten anyone away from using medical devices.

“But it IS important to know what kind of capabilities my device has,” he said. “Is my device something that talks with the internet?”

The University of Arizona said this hacking vulnerability could also affect medical centers. For example, at Banner Hospital, there are over 30,000 medical-device internet connections on any given day. The school also said much of the technology is over 10 years old.

Dameff and Tully have organized a summit to address solutions to medical device hacking. Five sessions will be open to the public. The public can register here.

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