Medical scan reports can be faked

Israeli researchers Yisroel Mirsky and Yuval Elovici from the Ben-Gurion University’s Cyber Security Research Center have developed a malware that can make changes in images obtained from CT and MRI scans. Not only that, the software can also affect the networks and equipment in the hospital.

The result of the research, which was published in January, showed that even experienced radiologists were fooled into diagnosing cancer 99 percent of the time. Also that they declared patients healthy after results were changed 94 percent of the time.

It was also noted that once the malware is introduced into the hospital system, it continues to find and alter images on its own. This is even more devastating as it goes out of control. Yisroel Mirsky told the Washington Post about his observations.

“What happens within the hospital system itself, which no regular person should have access to in general, they tend to be pretty lenient about.”

Computer malware and other types of internet threats have been developed and misused. However, this is a life threatening situation. A person who has cancer can be diagnosed to be healthy while another patient can be misdiagnosed. This could affect anyone, even a celebrity or politician which can in turn affect their public image. Not only does it cause cyber-attacks but can also encourage insurance fraud and other criminal activities.

Because medical professionals depend on computers to create the images, they would believe anything they see in the result. Hackers can be very smart and can use the malware to take control of the location, number or size of tumors while preserving the original 3D image.

As with everything else, medical equipment are also vulnerable which need to be taken care of. The medical professionals are more concerned about consultation, getting tests done, diagnosing the patient and offering treatment that they don’t have the time to think of what can go wrong.

“It’s not that they don’t care. It’s just that their priorities are set elsewhere” Mirsky added.

The best solution is to encrypt end-to-end PACS network which is directly connected to the internet. An additional step is to have digital signatures assigned so that the results are authenticated. However, an FDA representative also commented on the research that many hospitals can’t afford such advanced technologies. Therefore, world leaders should also work on updating medical facilities for the sake of the public and themselves.       

Garima Nabh is the founder of New Age Magazine.

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