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Fears of hackers targeting US hospitals, medical devices for cyber attacks

Author: Dan Harris / Source: ABC News

Cybersecurity experts are rushing to analyze the new ransomware known by some as “Petya” that quickly spread to countries around the world Tuesday, including the United States, with hackers holding computers hostage for ransom payouts.

Among the U.S. computers affected in the Petya attack were hospital computers, and experts are warning that not only is the ransomware problem getting worse, but hospital computers and medical devices are potentially vulnerable to hacking.

Last month, a worldwide cyberattack by a ransomware called WannaCry shut down 65 hospitals in the United Kingdom, and affected not just computers but storage refrigerators and MRI machines. Last January, Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles paid out $17,000 after hackers took control of its computers.

“In between the bookends of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital and the 65 hospitals shut down in the U.K., we went from being prone and prey with no predators to now a little blood in the water,” said cybersecurity expert Josh Corman. “Hospitals and health care went to the No. 1 targeted industry last year, in less than one year … so our relative obscurity is over.”

The popular TV show “Homeland” included a scene where the president’s pacemaker was hacked, and researchers say that threat is very real. So much so, that former Vice President Dick Cheney revealed on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in 2013 that he had the wireless capability on his pacemaker turned off.

To combat this problem, doctors, security experts and government employees recently converged at the University of Arizona Medical School in Phoenix to witness the first-ever simulated hack of a hospital.

The event was organized by Dr. Jeff Tully, a pediatrician, and Dr. Christian Dameff, an emergency medicine physician, both of whom are graduates from the University of Arizona Medical School and both are self-proclaimed hackers.

“When you say a hacker, everybody immediately thinks of darkly lit rooms, hooded characters that are nefariously typing and hacking the Pentagon,” Dameff joked. “Really hackers are great, they’re fantastic for the most part, there’s a lot of really great hackers out there.”

Dameff said there are some they call “white hat hackers” who he said use their skills for good.

“When they find vulnerabilities in systems, they fix them, they talk to device manufacturers, they talk to software companies, and fix them, because they know that there are bad hackers out there, and if people don’t do that, then it’s free range for the bad hackers,” he said.

Tully said “anything that is plugged in,” whether it has a Wi-Fi connection or not, can be vulnerable to hacking, and lots of medical devices, such as pacemakers and ventilators, are connected to the internet for the benefit of the patients.

“Pacemakers can connect with a device at home…

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