New antivirus system could protect medical devices from infection

With more and more medical devices relying on computer programs to operate, finding malware in the software is critical for hospitals, which are the most vulnerable to such infections due to their large networks. Now, computer security experts at the University of Michigan have developed technology capable of detecting these dangerous viruses that can cause devices to malfunction.

The new system, still in the field testing stage, is called WattsUpDoc, and it uses patterns in devices' power consumption to detect abnormal activity caused by malware, according to a report in the MIT Technology Review. In tests on machines deliberately infected with viruses, such as an industrial-control workstation and a compounder used to mix drugs, the system was able to detect abnormalities 94% of the time with known malware and 84% to 91% of the time with new bugs previously unseen.

Devices, like any computer-based software, are vulnerable to viruses unless protected by an antivirus program. But a program like McAfee, for instance, that is available for home computers is often not compatible with medical device software. And protection is critical, according to the FDA, which warned in June that cybersecurity was a growing concern and that devicemakers and healthcare facilities should take steps to reduce the risk of infection.

Hospitals would benefit from being alerted to such viruses before they cause problems in delivering care, even if a virus just gums up the works as opposed to causing massive device failure, the researchers said.

Lead designer Kevin Fu said WattsUpDoc is a year or more away from commercial application and that plenty of field testing remains to be sure of the system's usefulness in a hospital setting.

- here's the MIT Technology Review report

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