The reality of robotic surgery hacking threats

Electronic technology affects an ever-growing number of objects and processes which impact the daily lives of countless Americans. There are numerous benefits to the pervasive presence of electronic technology in daily life. However, it is important to understand the potential hazards and threats which may arise from becoming increasingly dependent on this specific influence.

For example, an increasing number of medical devices and medical instruments have software integrations, wireless capabilities and can otherwise be connected to any number of additional electronics. These new structures and features can be significantly beneficial for patients, physicians, manufacturers and federal safety regulators. However, the interconnected nature of these devices and instruments can also leave them vulnerable to hacking.

Recently, security researchers tested one specific instrument in regards to its hacking vulnerabilities. This teleoperated surgical robot was “easily hacked” according to a piece recently published in Computer World. The specific hack in question rendered the device unable to be utilized from a remote location. It is not difficult to imagine how a surgical robot specifically designed to be operated remotely could impact patient safety if it was hacked and rendered unable to be used by a remote surgeon.

Before agreeing to be treated by or implanted with electronic devices and instruments, it is important for patients to discuss hacking risks with their physicians. Similarly, it is important for physicians to resist relying too heavily on devices and instruments which may become compromised by system failure, software challenges and by forces which may wish harm upon affected patients and medical facilities.

Source: Computer World, “Researchers hijack teleoperated surgical robot: Remote surgery hacking threats,” Darlene Storm, April 27, 2015

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