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Study proves that robotic surgery is vulnerable to hacks

It seems that almost on a daily basis, news breaks of yet another company that’s suffered a major security breach. Today, information related to nearly everything from our bank accounts to our cable bills can be found online. While increased reliance on the Internet is often viewed as convenient today so-called hacks are common and can result in sensitive personal data being accessed and compromised.

In the healthcare field, concerns over security and privacy often relate to electronic health records. Until recently, little attention was paid to whether or not such hacks posed a threat to patients while undergoing surgical procedures. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington proves, however, that the same hacks that put one's financial security at risk could also potentially put one's physical health and very life at risk. 

Across the U.S. and globe, so-called telesurgery and robotic surgery is increasing in popularity. When performing a telesurgery, a surgeon inputs specific instructions into a computer which a robot then carries out. Having the ability or option to use robots to conduct surgeries is attractive for a variety of reasons including in cases of natural disasters and military combat as well as aiding in minimally invasive procedures. The problem, researchers note, is that such robots are connected to and controlled by commands sent via the Internet which means they are vulnerable to hacks.

During the study, researchers were able to effectively hack into and disrupt commands sent to one robotic surgical system known as Raven II. Researchers were able to “take control over the teleoperated procedure," stop the procedure and modify a robot’s directions and movements.

The results of this study are concerning and should sound alarm bells throughout the health care industry and raise awareness of existing security needs and deficiencies.

Source: Computerworld, "Researchers hijack teleoperated surgical robot: Remote surgery hacking threats," Darlene Strom, April 27, 2015

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