At a congressional hearing last week, Roger Baker, assistant secretary for information and technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said during the past 14 months more than 122 medical devices have been compromised by malware.
Baker, who testified before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said one of the "critical challenges" facing the department is protecting its medical devices from cyber threats.
"The major challenge with securing medical devices is that, because their operation must be certified, the application of operating system patches and malware protection updates is tightly restricted," Baker said. "This inherent vulnerability can increase the potential for cyber attacks on the VA trusted network by creating risk to patient safety," Baker added.
The VA defines a medical device as any device used in patient healthcare for diagnoses, treatment, or monitoring, or that has gone through the Food and Drug Administration's premarket review process. The VA is the federal government's largest medical care provider and has more than 50,000 networked medical devices.
"These infections have the potential to greatly affect the world-class patient care that is expected by our customers. In addition to compromising data and the system, these incidents are also extremely costly to the VA in terms of time and money spent cleansing infected medical devices," Baker said.
Last year the VA took steps to prevent these attacks by mandating that all medical devices at Veterans Health Administration facilities connected to the VA network implement a medical device isolation architecture using a virtual local area network structure.
Currently the VA has a medical device protection program in place which calls for pre-procurement assessments for medical devices, and outlines a comprehensive protection strategy that includes communications, training, validation, scanning, remediation, and patching for medical devices.
According to Baker, the VA's Office of Information and Technology and the Office of Information Protection and Risk Management are working to make sure that the more than 50,000 VA medical devices have isolation architecture by the end of the year.