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A cyber-security monster may be lurking in the shadows

For those of us in health care, there’s something grimly appropriate about the fact that this year marks the 200th anniversary since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published.

Along with other enthralled readers over the past two centuries, we in the medical field are especially taken with the notion of harnessing audacious, new forms of technology to push the boundaries of the healing sciences. But now, more than ever, we are also becoming increasingly aware of the terrifying outcome if those marvelous creations are turned against us.

This realization crossed my mind during a recent trip to Israel and Germany, where I met with experts who focus on cyber-security, especially as it applies to protecting healthcare facilities and patients’ information. The general consensus is that even though we appear to be making progress, we can only speculate about the seriousness of the threats that still await us, just out of sight.

Ironically, the latest generation of medical devices can be rendered defenseless by the digital technology that makes them so miraculous. Not long ago, in a competition conducted under simulated conditions by a leading cyber-security company, hackers gained access to an entire hospital through one of its CT scanners. This left the hospital vulnerable not only to a major invasion of patients’ privacy (leading to identity theft and insurance fraud), but to potentially deadly assaults on the patients themselves (settings on ventilators were changed).

It’s gratifying to recall that during the world-wide WannaCry ransomware attack last summer, the facilities of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal emerged unscathed, owing to safeguards that had previously been put into place. However, following my trip overseas, I’ve come away with an even more resolute belief that our job is far from done.

What those leaders in cyber-security impressed upon me was the need for ceaseless vigilance, because no one can begin to guess when or where the next Frankenstein’s monster will come to life and fix us in its sights.

Lawrence

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