RealTime IT News

Cyber threats to health IT, smart grid all too real

Cybersecurity experts [warned](/government/article.php/3818476/Federal+Cybersecurity+a+Tough+Balance+to+Strike.htm) a House panel Friday that medical and energy systems are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks as they are introduced to networked environments.

Rodney Joffe, senior vice president with Neustar, described the ongoing battles with the worm Conficker he has been engaged in through the Conficker Working Group, a public-private consortium of security researchers working to stamp out the fast-mutating worm.

"As a sobering side note on this, last month in collaboration with one of the members of Conficker Working Group from Georgia Tech, we identified at least 300 critical medical devices from a single manufacturer ... that were infected with Conficker," Joffe said.

"The hospitals had no idea. The manufacturer had no idea. When we called them they were honestly shocked."

The infected devices, which are used to read high-density images like MRIs and CT scans in intensive-care units, became infected because they were connected to a local area network.

"They should never have been connected to the Internet," Joffe said.

Worse still, when members of the working group tried to fix the problem, Joffe said they were told they had to wait 90 days to modify the machines due to an arcane FDA rule.

"In some cases clearly there can be a disconnect between government rules, which are meant to protect consumers, and today's cyber threats," he said.

Similarly, noted security researcher Dan Kaminsky warned of potential threats to the energy grid as the industry moves toward remote power meters that communicate with each other through what is essentially a peer-to-peer mesh network.

But the energy industry has been largely removed from the rising tide of threats to networked systems, Kaminsky noted.

"This technology is being done by people who frankly have not had to deal with the last 10 years of attacks," he said.

"On analysis we've seen these meters actually able to be compromised remotely," he added. "The only thing preventing pretty widespread attack is a lack of connectivity."

But connectivity is coming, and with it a host of security scares like the recent Wall Street Journal report [describing](/infra/article.php/3814456/US+Electricity+Grid+Compromised.htm) the exploits of Russian and Chinese hackers who managed to map the critical parts of the nation's energy infrastructure.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced matching legislation last week that would direct the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take a stronger role in shoring up the defenses of the electrical grid against cyber attacks.