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Researchers Warn of Hard-coded Passwords in Medical Devices

ICS-CERT published an advisory last week centered on a hard-coded password vulnerability that impacts some 300 medical devices – including implanted devices such as pacemakers or defibrillators.

ICS-CERT published an advisory last week centered on a hard-coded password vulnerability that impacts some 300 medical devices – including implanted devices such as pacemakers or defibrillators.

The vulnerabilities were discovered by Billy Rios and Terry McCorkle, who are researchers with Cylance, an Irvine, California-based security firm that’s quickly gaining a reputation for research that focuses on Industrial Control Systems (ICS). Just last month, the pair disclosed the fact no organization is immune from ICS vulnerabilities, including Google, after the search giant was found to be running an outdated version of Tridium’s Niagara Framework.

More recently, Rios and McCorkle disclosed hard-coded password vulnerabilities to ICS-CERT. The hard-coded passwords, found within roughly 300 medical devices, which are manufactured by some 40 different vendors, could be exploited to potentially change critical settings and/or modify device firmware.

“The affected devices have hard-coded passwords that can be used to permit privileged access to devices such as passwords that would normally be used only by a service technician. In some devices, this access could allow critical settings or the device firmware to be modified,” the ICS-CERT advisory explains.

In addition to pacemakers or defibrillators, the devices impacted by the security failure also include surgical and anesthesia devices, ventilators, drug infusion pumps, patient monitors, as well as laboratory and analysis equipment.

Following proper protocol, ICS-CERT went to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which in-turn issued a warning to medical device manufacturers, hospitals, medical device user facilities, health care IT and biomedical engineers, urging them to address the known flaws and to work harder to prevent similar issues in the future. 

“Many medical devices contain configurable embedded computer systems that can be vulnerable to cybersecurity breaches. In addition, as medical devices are increasingly interconnected, via the Internet, hospital networks, other medical device, and smartphones, there is an increased risk of cybersecurity breaches, which could affect how a medical device operates,” the FDA said in a widely distributed memo

This isn’t the first time that Rios and McCorkle have discovered problems in the medical world, and it isn’t likely to be the last. In January, the team targeted a heap overflow vulnerability on a Philips XPER system in order to take control of the entire workstation.

When speaking to SecurityWeek’s Fahmida Rashid, Rios said that attackers could communicate with any device connected to the compromised XPER system, which typically connects with various types of medical equipment, including x-ray machines, to a given hospital’s network.

“These devices would normally be on a hospital network. I would hope that they are not Internet facing (that would be extremely bad),” Rios said at the time.

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