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House Seeking Stakeholder Feedback on Addressing Cyber Risks of Legacy Health IT

April 25, 2018
by Heather Landi
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The House Energy and Commerce Committee is seeking input and feedback from healthcare industry stakeholders on how to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities in legacy healthcare IT technologies and medical devices.

In a request for information (RFI), the House E&C committee is soliciting industry stakeholders’ comments and suggestions regarding legacy technology challenges and opportunities.

“While health care cybersecurity is a complex, nuanced challenge with many different contributing factors, the use of legacy technologies, which are typically more insecure than their modern counterparts, continues to be a root cause of many incidents. The health care sector and medical technologies face the same challenge that has vexed the information technology (IT) industry for decades; digital technologies age faster and less gracefully than their physical counterparts,” the committee wrote in the RFI.

Stakeholders can email their comments to supportedlifetimes@mail.house.gov by May 31, 2018. The committee is chaired by Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

Citing the WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017 that exploited a flaw in a 30-year-old software protocol, leading to the global infection of hundreds of thousands of devices, the House E&C Committee warned that the healthcare industry faces significant risks from vulnerabilities and outdated protocol in legacy systems and devices.

The Committee notes that finding and fixing vulnerabilities like the one leveraged by WannaCry is costly. “Though hard data about the exact costs are difficult to determine, one cybersecurity professional estimated that fixing a single vulnerability may cost an organization anywhere from $400 to $4,000. Considering the fact that many popular medical technologies leverage software and hardware with hundreds to thousands of known vulnerabilities, let alone unknown ones, vulnerability identification and management can quickly become adaunting ask,” the Committee leaders wrote in the RFI. “This leads to a cost-benefit analysis between the value provided to an organization through the use of a given piece of technology, the costs of keeping it patched and updated, and the risks posed by using technologies which may be too expensive in terms of time and resources to update.”

And, the committee also notes that medical technologies typically are more expensive than consumer or enterprise IT. “As a result, organizations may reason that replacing technologies to address intangible and often esoteric cybersecurity vulnerabilities, especially in machines that may still exhibit acceptable physical operation, does not provide enough benefits to offset the costs. Why, if a device can still meet its intended use, should it be replaced at the expense of other organizational needs?”

To complicate matters further, the Committee also notes that requiring manufacturers and developers of medical technologies to support legacy technologies as an alternative to replacing legacy systems is problematic as well. “It is sometimes inefficient or impractical to fix vulnerabilities, as doing so may mean entirely rearchitecting or rewriting the chipsets, operating systems, or applications on which a technology relies. This is an expensive undertaking not just in terms of funding, but in terms of time and expertise,” the Committee wrote.

The House E&C Committee leaders acknowledge that there are “no clear solutions” and requests stakeholder feedback to understand the full scope of the challenge and the potential paths to address it.

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