When we think about how technology impacts our daily lives, we don’t really notice it unless it’s a big-picture concept. In fact, there are many areas where technology plays an outsized impact on our lives — and we hardly notice it at all. Traffic lights can be controlled remotely, thermostats can automatically warm or chill your home based on what season it is. The truth is, these small individual facets add up to a larger whole: the Internet of Things or IoT. IoT applications are endless, but can sometimes be insecure. Imagine if that were the case when it comes to the IoT devices designed to aid with our personal health.
IoT and our physical health are more related than many of us think, and their connection has led to revolutionary, preventative health care. Smartwatches monitor our overall health and fitness level thanks to miniaturized gyroscopes and heart rate monitors. This information can and has been used to warn people of impending heart attacks — giving them enough time to contact emergency services for help. Implants, such as pacemakers, can monitor a patient from afar, giving doctors a detailed analysis of their condition. These devices have advanced modern-day health care for the better, but their design can occasionally contain vulnerabilities that may expose users to a cyberattack.
First, let’s consider the smartwatch. It’s a convenient tool that aids us in monitoring our daily well-being. But the data it collects could be compromised through a variety of attacks. For example, Fitbit suffered a minor breach in 2016, resulting in cybercriminals trying to scam the company’s refund system. In another example, Strava, a social network for athletes, saw its users suffer a spate of thefts — a potential consequence of sharing GPS coordinates from their IoT device.
Alternatively, flaws found in implants, such as pacemakers, cochlear and others can be leveraged by cybercriminals to conduct attacks that impact our physical well-being. That’s because many implants today can be remotely manipulated, potentially giving cybercriminals the tools they need to cause a patient physical harm. For example, a recent study from academic researchers at the Catholic University of Leuven found neurostimulators, brain implants designed to help monitor and personalize treatments for people living with Parkinson’s disease, are vulnerable to remote attack. If an attack were successful, a cybercriminal could prevent a patient from speaking or moving.
Remember, these IoT implants still do a lot more good than harm, as they give medical professionals unparalleled insights into a patient’s overall condition and health. They could also help design better treatments in the future. However, in order to be able to reap their benefits in a safe way, users just need to make sure they take proactive security steps before implementing them.
Before introducing an IoT device for health care into your life, make sure you take the time to do your research. Look up the device in question and its manufacturer to see if the device had any prior breaches, and the manufacturer’s actions or responses to that. Speak with your doctor about the security standards around the IoT implant, as well. Ask if its security has been tested, how it’s been tested and how an implant can be updated to patch any security-related issues. After all, technology is becoming a more significant part of our lives — we owe it to ourselves to secure it so we can enjoy the benefits it brings to the table.