Health care's newest threat: Cyber hackers targeting medical devices

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Dr. Christian Dameff with the University of Arizona School of Medicine. Dr. Christian Dameff with the University of Arizona School of Medicine.

Many of the medical devices being used today are not protected from a possible cyber attack, according to Phoenix health care professionals.

It's a potential problem that could put patients lives at risk.

Fourteen-year-old Tyler Guthrie, who suffers from diabetes, prefers to focus on his music, not on the insulin pump and glucose monitor he wears to balance his blood sugar.

"You've got to get used to the monitoring on your phone," said Tyler. "It's important to make sure you're doing everything right."

The Mesa teen is like millions of Americans who rely on medical devices to keep them alive.

But what if Tyler's insulin pump suddenly gave him too much medicine?

What if a heart patient's pacemaker shut down without warning?

Dr. Christian Dameff, with the University of Arizona College of Medicine, is spreading the word about health care's newest threat, the cyber hacking of medical devices.  

"Time and time again we have security researchers, the good hackers out there, showing us that insulin pumps, pacemakers, and  medical pumps at bedside, are all really easy to hack," said Dameff. "Those medical devices will sometimes share code and hardware in other industries, and because these types of things are shared, the vulnerability is shared.  If it can infect one it can infect them all."

Next week, doctors, health care professionals and medical device manufacturers will come to U of A's downtown Phoenix campus for a CyberMed Summit to discuss what can be done to protect patients.

"We take care of patients every day in the hospital, and we as doctors rely on these types of technologies," said Dr. Jeff Tully. "We never second guess them, and maybe we should."

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

Jason Barry
Jason Barry has been reporting in the Valley since 1997.

Click to learn more about Jason.

Jason Barry

Jason Barry has been reporting in the Valley since 1997.

He is a nine-time Rocky Mountain Emmy Award winner who is best known for his weekly Dirty Dining reports, which highlight local restaurants with major health code violations.

Jason was born in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Miami.

An avid sports fan, Jason follows the Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Suns with his wife, Karen, and son, Joshua.

His favorite stories to cover are the station’s Pay it Forward segments, which reward members of the community with $500 for going ‘above and beyond’ the call of duty to help others.

Jason, started his career at WBTW-TV in Florence, SC before moving to WALA-TV in Mobile, AL, was named the Associated Press Reporter of the Year in 2002.

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