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EMF Studies

21 August 2015

Hacker Can Send Fatal Dose to Hospital Drug Pumps

Hospira's drug infusion pumps include a serial cable (the
Hacker Can Send Fatal Dose to Hospital Drug Pumps
by Kim Zetter Securit, wired.com,
8 June 2015

Hospira's drug infusion pumps include a serial cable (the wide grayish-white cable with the single red stripe on one edge) that connects the communications module to the main pump board. Billy Rios

When security researcher Billy Rios reported earlier this year that he’d found vulnerabilities in a popular drug infusion pump that would allow a hacker to raise the dosage limit on medication delivered to patients, there was little cause for concern.

Altering the allowable limits of a particular drug simply meant that if a caregiver accidentally instructed the pump to give too high or too low a dosage, the pump wouldn’t issue an alert. This seemed much less alarming than if the pumps had vulnerabilities that would allow a hacker to actually alter the dosage itself.

Now Rios says he’s found the more serious vulnerabilities in several models of pumps made by the same manufacturer, which would allow a hacker to surreptitiously and remotely change the amount of drugs administered to a patient.

“This is the first time we know we can change the dosage,” Rios told WIRED.

The vulnerabilities are known to affect at least five models of drug infusion pumps made by Hospira—an Illinois firm with more than 400,000 intravenous drug pumps installed in hospitals around the world.

The vulnerable models include the company’s standard PCA LifeCare pumps; its PCA3 LifeCare and PCA5 LifeCare pumps; its Symbiq line of pumps, which Hospira stopped selling in 2013 due to concerns raised by the FDA over other quality and safety issues with the pumps; and its Plum A+ model of pumps. Hospira has at least 325,000 of the latter model alone installed in hospitals worldwide.

These are the systems that Rios knows are vulnerable because he’s tested them. But he suspects that the company’s Plum A+3 and its Sapphire and SapphirePlus models are equally vulnerable too.

Hospira did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, Rios went public with information about a different security issue with Hospira’s LifeCare pumps.

This one involved drug libraries used with the pumps, which help set upper and lower boundaries for dosages of intravenous drugs a pump can safely administer. Because the libraries don’t require authentication, Rios found that anyone on the hospital’s network—including patients in the hospital or a hacker accessing the pumps over the Internet—can load a new drug library that alters the limits for a drug.

At the time he publicly disclosed the library vulnerability, Rios told WIRED that he had not yet found any vulnerabilities that would allow him to actually alter a drug dosage, though he was working on it. But he now acknowledges that he had found these more serious vulnerabilities in the LifeCare pumps at the time and had in fact reported them to Hospira and the FDA last year. At the time he hadn’t yet tested a Plum A+ pump, however.

The new vulnerabilities would allow attackers to remotely alter the firmware on the pumps, giving them complete control of the devices and the ability to alter dosages delivered to patients. And because the pumps are also vulnerable to the previous library vulnerability he disclosed, an attacker would be able to first raise the dosage above the maximum limit before delivering a potentially deadly dosage without the pump issuing an alert.

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