Healthcare IoT Security: Risks, Issues, Best Practices, and Our Advice

The advent of healthcare IoT solutions has brought forth many of the previously irrelevant security issues in the IoT itself. Globally, the large-scale Internet of Things adoption resulted in a surge in IoT malware attacks by 215.7% during 2018, and a 5% increase in the number of attacks in 2019. This means over 32 million attacks per year: a disturbing figure, that healthcare device vendors should not overlook.

Connected to the Internet, each IoT device is a potential security loophole. Their exposure to hacker attacks can lead to the disclosure of patients’ personal information, disrupting the works of other systems, and, most importantly, undermining patients’ personal safety. In this blog, we will talk about the best practices for securing healthcare IoT in development and share our experiences on how to protect your IT system and patients’ data from perpetrators.

How is the Internet of Things used in healthcare?

The IoT data-driven analytics is beneficial for medical providers’ management. Managers make more accurate decisions based on up-to-date information gathered from devices. The healthcare industry uses the IoT in several domains. Check more insights on IoT in healthcare examples, and further, how to secure the IoT. Medical facilities apply innovative technologies in such cases:

1. Supply chain management

It consists of two areas: assets monitoring and person’s location detection. Assets monitoring comprises inventory tracking, and smart medical management. Person’s location detection, in turn, employee location control, and patient location control.

2. Remote patient monitoring

Such technology consists of individual devices/wearables.

3. Hospital environmental state control.

It includes quality of air, temperature, threat sensing, and lighting management.

4. Telemedicine.

This technology includes distant appointments, remote diagnostics, distant tracking, and drug intake control.

5. Robotics.

It comprises of surgery using robotics, ambient Assisted Living (AAL), machine’s rehabilitation assistance.

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6. Augmented reality (AR) and Virtual reality (VR).

These technologies include two components: AR decision backing/testing, VR medical training simulation.
Read also: AR & VR in Healthcare: Benefits, Use Cases, Costs

7. Interconnected ambulance.

It contains VR guided distant diagnostics, and remote information transfer and communication.

The Importance of Healthcare IoT Security

In recent years, surveys have confirmed the security vulnerabilities of medical devices connected to the Internet and attracted the public’s attention to IoT security in healthcare. Designing IoT solutions for healthcare, don’t forget about medical iot security. Since 2016 and 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires medical device manufacturers to build security into their systems.

Still, the attacks on medical devices are getting more sophisticated: in 2017, WannaCry ransomware stalled operations in many hospitals and clinics by preventing medical personnel from accessing the infected devices. In 2020, during the COVID-19 outbreak, the overall number of attacks on IoT devices increased, with medical equipment becoming the most frequent target for intrusions.

So why is IoT security a vital issue in healthcare? Apart from the privacy threats, concerns about the integrity of patients’ healthcare data and negative financial and reputational implications, patients’ safety is, inarguably, the most serious hazard. Although none of the cases, when patient’s safety was affected as a direct result of hacker attack has been reported yet, such possibility exists.

For example, a simple change in the value of vital metrics collected by medical devices like pulse oxymeters or glucose meters may affect the ways in which patient care is delivered and medication dosages, and lead to fatal consequences. Furthermore, hackers taking control of medical devices may alter their operation modes and turn them into deadly weapons. Penetrating into a hospital network and accessing other medical equipment through a single device is a negative, yet realistic scenario.

finger heart rate monitor

As such, a threat may come through a device brought by patients and visitors and operating through a guest network – something the organization’s IT staff may not even be aware of. Clearly, traditional firewalls and antivirus software are no longer enough to ensure adequate protection – healthcare firms need to work out other means of detecting both known and unknown threats. 

On top of that, legacy equipment and convergence issues pose additional challenges to healthcare IoT security. For a healthcare company, replacing a piece of medical equipment may involve hefty investments. Used for decades, such equipment may not comply with modern security rules and standards and is an easy target for an attack.

Privacy and Security Issues with IoT in Healthcare

With IoT, medical device compliance software is becoming omnipresent, security matters deserve a closer look. In a nutshell, the risks of IoT security in healthcare fall into three main categories: IT risks, risks to patients’ safety, and data security risks and issues with IoT devices. Let’s now explore them in more detail.

1. Disclosure of PHI

Personal Health Information (PHI) contained in medical electronic medical records should only be revealed to primary caregivers. In reality, though, it can often be viewed, copied, or modified without patients’ consent. The IoT glucose monitor data, for example, can be easily exposed to third parties and requires additional protection.

2. Privacy violations

Highly sensitive data such as demographics, social security numbers, and credit card details are valued by cybercriminals. Security vulnerabilities enable them to get control of patients’ personal data, modify and misuse it.

Developer working

3. Data ownership issues

Likewise, the data from consumer healthcare wearables, that users assume is private, is not necessarily so. Depending on the legislation of a country or state, this data may or may not belong to the device users.

4. Location data

When it comes to data security, IoT in hospitals has a lot of issues to resolve. Users’ location data, for example, is also considered personal information, while its privacy may also be easily compromised and revealed to third parties.

5. DDoS attack

A malicious attack resulting in a distributed denial of services (DDoS attack), is executed by overwhelming a target by the flow of Internet traffic. DDoS attacks render services inaccessible and have highly disruptive effects on healthcare operations.

6. Medjacking

This recently coined term stands for the hijacking of a medical device, which is one of the frequent security issues in IoT healthcare. Through taking control over connected equipment, perpetrators can compromise IoT security: gaining access to sensitive data, take control over other devices on the network, infect them with malware and, potentially, use them to harm patients.

7. Unauthorized access

IoT devices use a multi-tenant cloud environment for data storage, which means it may be vulnerable to unauthorized access. Device vendors have to leverage advanced identification and authentication techniques to prevent users from accessing other users’ data – intentionally, or by accident.

8. Legacy equipment issues

Medical organizations don’t replace assets until they are entirely depreciated. Obsolete legacy equipment, which can cost millions of dollars, may have outdated protocols or can’t receive updates. As we mentioned above, it creates additional security healthcare IoT risks for the whole IT system.

Medical organizations need to pay close attention to common threats in the IoT and be aware of the most at-risk medical devices. According to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, the top five medical devices with the most significant IoT vulnerabilities in healthcare comprise:

  • IV pump
  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone
  • Ultrasound
  • Medicine dispenser
  • IP camera

At Empeek we do all it takes to meet the challenges of IoT in healthcare and to eliminate the threats to patient safety, data integrity, and organizations’ IT systems. If you’re looking for a medical device software development company with proven expertise in ensuring the security and compliance of IoT solutions, contact us now for a free chat with our experts.

Healthcare IoT Security Best Practices

Security breaches could happen through ignorance, negligence, or ill intent. In case your organization falls victim to a hacker attack through a vulnerability in a connected device, several parties could be held accountable: your staff, cloud service providers, patients, or regulatory bodies failing to pay closer attention to a potential problem. A preventive approach, however, works best on an organizational level.

Below is an outline of the best practices aimed at eliminating the cybersecurity challenges in using IoT in healthcare.

Ensuring network security

Healthcare companies avoid potential breaches in network security by providing network segmentation and protecting each of the subnets at its own level. Network administrators can execute control over the flow of traffic between each network segment, and use encryption techniques to protect data from being decoded, even if it gets intercepted by hackers.

Applying context-aware security approach

Context-aware security systems are, in essence, more advanced than traditional cybersecurity tools detecting and preventing the already-known threats. They can belong to AI-driven protection systems.

Contextual-aware security takes into account the broader picture – who is attempting access, from where, when, and in what manner. By detecting non-typical activity and unfamiliar patterns, such an approach helps detect threats in real-time and prevent security violations and network healthcare IoT breaches.

Device centralization and segmentation

Security of IoT medical devices best practices include aggregating them into a separate network to facilitate their monitoring and control. IoT aggregation hubs will help you manage your devices, control which network elements and resources they have access to, and modify their security settings.

Protection on a hardware level

A hardware breach implies a malicious chip is infecting your network. The effects of hardware breaches can be fatal, so organizations take measures to protect their devices on a hardware level, making the devices’ debug port difficult to access and protecting it by an electronic digital signature. Real-time monitoring detecting any suspicious hardware behavior is also an effective means of detecting hardware breaches.

Data encryption

As mentioned above, applying data encryption is also part of the healthcare IoT security best practices. As a rule, connected devices use both symmetric and asymmetric lightweight cryptography (LWCRYPT) techniques, whereas parties exchange encryption keys before conducting data transfer. Today, IoT sensors normally contain encryption keys aimed at establishing a protected HTTP channel between devices and consumers.

Digital space

EMI shielding

EMI stands for ‘electromagnetic interference issue’, which is becoming a part of our lives with an increasing amount of electronic devices. Shielding involves building a metal frame surrounding a device and blocking electromagnetic waves to protect it from unwanted interference.

Visibility maintenance

Connecting new devices means extra security challenges of IoT in healthcare for their tracking. The equipment number impacts the complexity of IoT healthcare security. The hardships of monitoring require using healthcare visibility solutions to track and trace mechanisms. That is why you need to configure a relevant IoT visibility application to do that efficiently at the very start of the devices’ work.

Protecting IoT devices against malware and trojan threats

Several protection methods are at hand for efficient IoT devices security. The most popular of them are:

  • Signature-based detection works with the antivirus system’s signature. Malware can be detected only when the database signatures don’t coincide with the scanned one. Only IoT devices with a small memory can utilize this method effectively.  
  • Static methods use devices’ static characteristics. The static analysis utilizes different tools for the simple signature collection and identification. This practice allows malware searches without the actual code change. The static approach is limited in verification but cost-effective and easy to use.
  • Dynamic methods of detection observe suspicious activities. They track changes in network behavior, CPU load, virtual memory, calls, and SMS.

The best way to protect your software from trojan, malware, and hacker attacks is to use a combination of mentioned above methods.

Use established norms and best procedures

There are specific approaches that enable reliable medical healthcare IoT security systems. We can highlight obligatory encryption, firewalls, and hard-coded passwords elimination among such techniques. Regular devices updates are also mandatory. Moreover, medical providers need to assess each device to be conscious of medical IoT vulnerabilities and detect any suspect network traffic. They can use behavioral analytics profiling, for that matter.

Utilize appropriate instruments

Security optimization requires using specific applications to streamline the reliable work of IoT healthcare devices. Various platforms can automate control of substantial data amounts, devices’ management, and handle authentication certificates. Specific medical equipment control tools created by different manufacturers give information about the device: identify it, what data is collected from it, and where its internet connection is established. Administrators use those tools to monitor internet traffic and manage network connections to approve or deny them.

These best practices help organizations overcome the security and privacy issues with IoT development, and fully benefit from the advantages of healthcare IoT, and fully benefit from the advantages of healthcare IoT.

But resolving healthcare IoT security issues shouldn’t negatively affect customers’ experience, decrease devices’ productivity, and hamper their regular performance.

Empeek Advice and Expertise

Over the years, here at Empeek, we have developed expertise in healthcare IoT security. Below are some practical IoT security tips that healthcare companies can use to ensure sensitive patient data and protect their IT networks. Check one of real IoT system examples EHR app to connect families we have developed before.

Apply IoT security best practices

Network segmentation, data encryption, hardware protection, and EMI shielding are practical means of ensuring the cybersecurity of your IoT-driven medical practice. Using advanced protection methods like context-aware protection will help you prevent attacks in a timely manner.

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Introduce effective authentication

Setting up effective authentication policies will ensure no data gets copied or modified by perpetrators. Adopt a zero-trust approach – make sure all connections get authenticated even if they come from inside of your organization.

Keep track of your devices and assets

Carefully mapping out all the devices belonging to your organization will help you in timely detection of the potential threats. Some of the devices connecting to your network, though, may belong to visitors and patients and it may be difficult to keep track of all of them. Invest in inventory devices that help detect the existing network connections as well as some of their parameters, such as, for example, the type of operating system they use. 

IoT in healthcare

Segregate traffic and restrict access

We have already stressed the importance of network segmentation in ensuring IoT security in healthcare. The goal is to control the flow of traffic between each network segment. The same principles apply to devices: network admins should restrict their access to the Internet. If Internet access is necessary, the administrators should limit the number of connections to eliminate the potentially harmful ones. Organizations should also impose data access policies restricting personnel access to patients’ sensitive data.

Use IoT security solutions

Today, many vendors offer tools for IoT security, such as inventory tracking, traffic management and network visibility solutions. Some of these tools control authentications and data streams. These solutions can help network administrators in timely detection of threats.

Read also: What is the Future of IoT in Healthcare and the Life Sciences Industry?

Final Thoughts

Despite the risks of IoT security in healthcare, connected devices are capable of taking the delivery of medical services to an entirely new level. Admittedly, though, overcoming cybersecurity challenges for medical devices takes time and effort. With this regard, forging a partnership with an external company proficient in building and deploying healthcare IoT solutions, could help you safeguard patients’ data and protect organizations’ network from malware and intrusions.

Looking for a reliable IT partner to help you adopt IoT security best practices? Connect with Empeek experts now to schedule a free consultation!


What is the best practice to mitigate risks in healthcare IoT?

There is no single practice to eliminate all possible IoT healthcare risks. The most reasonable way is to utilize all available for you and your budget techniques. The more you use, the better.

How to mitigate IoT security challenges to tap business benefits?

Follow the best business practices, e.g., data encryption, effective authentification methods, traffic segregation, and network visibility control.

Which is not the risk associated with the adoption of IoT

Bandwidth throughput is not one of the concerns in IoT.

What are the main concerns about IoT security?

Potential cybersecurity challenges in using IoT in healthcare are PHI disclosure, hacker attacks, medjacking, and privacy violations.

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Written by:
Alex Shpachuk Alex Shpachuk CEO
Alex Shpachuk is the owner and strategic partner of Empeek. His effective leadership and a visionary approach to the future of healthcare turned the company into a dynamic environment attracting the brightest minds with the common vision for product impact and service excellence. With over a decade of experience in software engineering and comprehensive knowledge of designing and deploying tailor-made solutions for healthcare providers, Alex channels his passion for software development and consulting into the written word.

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