Under Attack: Dentistry Faces Growing Cybersecurity Threat

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A recent study by Fortinet determined that in 2016, healthcare organizations faced on average more than 700,000 hacking attempts a minute. What’s even more troubling is that hackers are increasingly targeting networked devices, such as the digital X-ray machine in your practice. Hacks such as these can easily yield sensitive patient data, leading to identity theft.

According to this study, office devices that run on VxWorks, such as your X-ray machine, are particularly vulnerable.

The dental industry is amid a transformative shift toward the use of technology to provide patient care. But with increased reliance on computers for diagnostic and treatment purposes, there’s one thing dentists need to be aware of — cybersecurity threats.

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Fortinet, a cybersecurity vendor, has recently completed a study using data collected from 450 healthcare providers that shows just how critical it is for dental practitioners and other healthcare entities to protect themselves online. Fortinet found that more than 700,000 hacking attempts were made against healthcare organizations in any given minute of the fourth quarter of 2016.

Derek Manky, head of the FortiGuard Labs global threat research team at Fortinet and global security strategist says, "By far, the most interesting trend we have seen is Internet of Things-based attacks. These are attacks not going after traditional Windows-based PCs or Internet Explorer but rather the No. 1 attacks specifically in healthcare have been against an operating system called VxWorks. We saw about two million attempts to hack into this system in Q4 2016. This runs on medical devices and infusion pumps and personal monitors, these sorts of things, and that's really concerning."

The Internet of Things is a relatively new term used to describe the increasing ways in which machines communicate with each other. Beyond what we think of when we consider the traditional Internet, the Internet of Things involves cloud computing and expanded networks of data-gathering sensors or applications. The Internet of Things is an instantaneous mode of communication, and it’s both mobile and virtual. In short, it’s the future of our increasingly-connected world.

For dentists, the implications of this cyberattack study are clear. VxWorks is a real-time operating system that is used in several dental technologies, including dental X-ray machines. If hackers break into this operating system in a dental practice or facility, they might easily gain access to sensitive patient information.

"Too often the enemies of security are invisible, they are not seen and there is a false sense of security. Just because you do not see anything doesn't mean your network is fine. The mistake is traditionally people try to build up security against an invisible enemy. First you have to find out what is happening in your vertical and then build the proper security solutions against that,” says Manky.

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