Health IT

Report: Ambulances vulnerable to hackers

Using widely available scanning software, a security researcher in Spain recently found several thousand industrial vehicles, including ambulances, with unsecured communications hubs.


One of the newest arenas for cybersecurity is connected vehicles, and few types of vehicles are more connected than ambulances. That means medical transport is a growing target for hackers.

As Wired reports, a security researcher in Spain personally found several thousand industrial vehicles, including ambulances, with unsecured communications hubs called telematics gateway units. These TGUs typically track the vehicle’s location, gas mileage and other data not unique to healthcare transport.

But, as Work Truck magazine reported back in 2013, ambulance fleets have been incorporating computer processors, cellular radios, Wi-Fi, GPS and firewalls into their gateways. These gateways sometimes download patient records and send vitals directly to hospital emergency departments.

So it’s chilling to learn that TGUs aren’t always secure. Wired described the work of the researcher, Jose Carlos Norte, who used widely available scanning software:

He found that one TGU in particular, the C4Max sold by the French firm Mobile Devices, had no password protection, leaving the devices accessible to any hacker who scanned for them.

That allowed Norte, the chief technology officer for the security firm EyeOS owned by the Spanish telecom Telefonica, to easily look up the location of any of hundreds or thousands of vehicles at any given moment. And Norte believes he could have gone further, though he didn’t for fear of violating the law; with a few more steps, he says, an intruder could send commands over the vehicle’s internal network—known as its CAN bus—to affect its steering, brakes or transmission.

Norte didn’t go further, but a team at the University of California, San Diego, did last year. That group hacked a Mobile Devices CAN bus in a controlled environment to disable the brakes and windshield wipers of a Corvette, according to Wired.

A hack on patient data would expose the ambulance operator to HIPAA problems, which is bad enough. An attack that takes control of the vehicle could lead to injury or death.

The French company told Wired that only devices in “development” mode rather than “deployment” mode could be taken over by a remote hacker. But CEO Aaron Solomon said that Mobile Devices was still investigating the findings of both Norte and UCSD.

In any case, Norte was able to track as many as 3,000 vehicles at once. “You could track trucks and watch them and steal their contents,” he was quoted as saying. “There are a lot of operations that bad guys could use this for.”

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