When your family opened up that brand-new computer when you were a kid, you didn’t think of all of the third-party work that made typing in that first BASIC program possible. There once was a time when we didn't have to worry about which companies produced all the bits of licensed software or hardware that underpinned our computing experience. But recent malware attacks and other security events have shown just how much we need to care about the supply chain behind the technology we use every day.
The URGENT/11 vulnerability [fda.gov], the subject of a Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency advisory issued last July, is one of those events. It forces us to care because it affects multiple medical devices.
medical device vendors don't always have the flexibility to upgrade their underlying platforms because of the way they license components. Since third-party components are usually licensed for a prebuilt function, the license may only allow for the device's use with a certain version of an operating system or kernel.
addressing the risks means understanding and addressing the value chain for how a device evolves from concept to disposition. We need to also evolve how devices are designed and updated to match the level of support that Samsung and Apple provide. This means there needs to be dedication by manufacturers to use platforms for a longer time and a commitment to keeping the build chains current to be able to consistently deliver patches and updates to customers.
Outside of the major manufacturers, many of the companies that manufacture these devices are smaller businesses, and they have to be able to afford to develop new devices and support what they have at the same time—which is often difficult even for large companies.
We need to partner with our medical device vendors to solve issues like Urgent/11 through better processes. We need to understand how the devices work, and we need to understand that it takes a lot of work to get a patch out for devices that are more complex than a standard PC. Deploying patches to these devices also carries different risks.
The S in Medical IoT stands for Security.