Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Perimeter

2/1/2010
02:50 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
50%
50%

When Software Glitches Are Fatal -- Literally

Hearing about how many companies were hacked during the Aurora attacks due to a software vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) is frustrating. Now another attack is ready to be unveiled at Black Hat DC that also uses an IE "feature." The thought of what can and has happened because of these flaws is scary -- theft of personal information, espionage, identity theft, etc. -- but what happens when software glitches lead to death?

Hearing about how many companies were hacked during the Aurora attacks due to a software vulnerability in Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) is frustrating. Now another attack is ready to be unveiled at Black Hat DC that also uses an IE "feature." The thought of what can and has happened because of these flaws is scary -- theft of personal information, espionage, identity theft, etc. -- but what happens when software glitches lead to death?A co-worker sent me a link to a NYTimes article, "Radiation Offers New Cures, and New Ways to Do Harm," that details several cases where software glitches, computer crashes, and lack of technician review have lead to numerous patients receiving too much radiation, sometimes resulting in their deaths. It's an incredible story highlighting a couple of patients, one of whom was Jerome Parks, who "appreciated the irony of his situation: that someone who earned a living solving computer problems would be struck down by one."

Where does the accountability lay when bad things happen due to software bugs? Several articles and blogs in the past couple of weeks following the Google/Aurora hacks have talked about software vendors' responsibility to produce a secure product, but what about medical software vendors who've written buggy software? These are bugs that haven't resulted in compromised systems, but instead have lead to computer and application crashes resulting in harmful medical treatments that injure, sometimes lethally, the patients.

It's incredible to think that stricter guidelines and protocols aren't in place to prevent these mistakes from happening. In several situations, a technician should have caught the mistake when reviewing the treatment beforehand or monitoring the actual procedure. However, the software didn't have fail-safes in place to notify users that certain settings were configured in a way that could harm the patient. The article does state that fail-safes have been added as a result of mistreatments and deaths.

The NYTimes article also reminded me of one of my favorite technical fiction books, <Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent. In Chapter 3, a young wannabe hacker is duped into taking a fake job extending a hospital's wireless network to about an additional block's radius. Once finished, he is asked to change the blood type on the medical record of a supposed fictitious patient. Later on, that change has a deadly impact on one of the characters.

I've seen enough vulnerabilities and compromises in medical offices that I'm shocked we don't see more issues as a result of insecure medical systems. It's bad enough that mistreatments are occurring because of software problems, but I believe there's legit concern that an attacker could change a patient's record without the person ever knowing it until it's too late. Heck, it's probably happening as you read this.

At what point can we say enough is enough and put the responsibility onto the software vendors?

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 8/3/2020
Pen Testers Who Got Arrested Doing Their Jobs Tell All
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  8/5/2020
New 'Nanodegree' Program Provides Hands-On Cybersecurity Training
Nicole Ferraro, Contributing Writer,  8/3/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
This special report takes a look at how enterprises are using threat intelligence, as well as emerging best practices for integrating threat intel into security operations and incident response. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-15820
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
In JetBrains YouTrack before 2020.2.6881, the markdown parser could disclose hidden file existence.
CVE-2020-15821
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
In JetBrains YouTrack before 2020.2.6881, a user without permission is able to create an article draft.
CVE-2020-15823
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
JetBrains YouTrack before 2020.2.8873 is vulnerable to SSRF in the Workflow component.
CVE-2020-15824
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
In JetBrains Kotlin before 1.4.0, there is a script-cache privilege escalation vulnerability due to kotlin-main-kts cached scripts in the system temp directory, which is shared by all users by default.
CVE-2020-15825
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-08
In JetBrains TeamCity before 2020.1, users with the Modify Group permission can elevate other users' privileges.