Medical equipment hacking and defensive solutions presentation by Ben-Gurion U. researcher

RSNA presentation — new milestone on the path to securing medical imaging devices

Ben-Gurion University Cyber Security Researcher to Present Medical Equipment Hacking and Defensive Solutions to the Radiological Society of North America

CHICAGO…November 27, 2018 – As internet connectivity of medical imaging equipment in hospitals increases the potential for malicious cyberattacks, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researcher Tom Mahler will present his team’s approach to solutions using artificial intelligence (AI) at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Annual Meeting on November 27 at 3:00 p.m. in Chicago.

The internet has been beneficial for health care–radiology included–improving access in remote areas, allowing for faster and better diagnoses, and vastly improving the management and transfer of medical records and images. Medical imaging devices such as X-ray, mammography, MRI, and CT machines play a crucial role in diagnosis and treatment. But as these devices are typically connected to hospital networks, they can be potentially susceptible to sophisticated cyberattacks, including ransomware attacks that can disable the machines.

During his presentation, “CTrl-Alt-Radiate?” Tom Mahler, BGU Ph.D. candidate and researcher in [email protected], demonstrated how a hacker might bypass security mechanisms of a CT machine in order to manipulate its behavior. Because CT uses ionizing radiation, changes to dose could negatively affect image quality, or–in extreme cases–pose harm to the patient. Hacking a system is the first step in determining vulnerabilities and creating solutions.

“In the current phase of our research, we focus on developing an anomaly detection system using advanced AI methods to train the system with actual commands recorded from actual equipment,” says Mahler. “Our system will monitor scan protocols to detect whether outgoing commands are malicious before they are executed and will alert or possibly stop if it detects an issue.”

While other solutions have focused on securing the entire hospital network, the goal of this device-focused approach is to be the last line of defense for medical imaging devices to prevent as many attacks as possible.

The BGU model learns to recognize typical imaging scan protocols and to predict if a new, unseen command is legitimate or not. If an attacker sends a malicious command to the device, the system will detect it and alert the operator before the command is executed. Mahler notes that the system is not yet finished, but that the results are a significant milestone on the path to securing medical imaging devices.

“The medical information device development process, from concept to market, takes three to seven years. Cyber threats can change significantly over that period, which leave medical imaging devices highly vulnerable,” Mahler says. “If health care manufacturers and hospitals take a proactive approach, we can prevent such attacks from happening in the first place.”

The next step in this process is to collect more scans from different devices and sites to create a more accurate model.

RSNA is an association of over 54,000 radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical physicists, and related scientists that promotes excellence in patient care and health care delivery through education, research and technologic innovation.


The “CTrl-Alt-Radiate?” research team includes Prof. Yuval Shahar, M.D., Ph.D., head of BGU’s Medical Informatics Research Center and a member of the BGU Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering; Prof. Yuval Elovici, Ph.D., director of the Telekom Innovation [email protected], director of [email protected], and a member of the BGU Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering; and Dr. Erez Shalom, Ph.D., senior researcher at BGU’s Medical Informatics Research Center. Other collaborators include: Arnon Makori, M.D., M.H.A., director of Imaging Informatics in Clalit Health Services; Prof. Ilan Shelef, M.D., Ph.D., director of the imaging department in Soroka University Medical Center and a member of the BGU Faculty of Health Sciences; and Israel Goldenberg, chief information security officer in the Data Protection and Cyber Security Department, Clalit Health Services.

About American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion’s vision: creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University’s expertise locally and around the globe. As Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) looks ahead to turning 50 in 2020, AABGU imagines a future that goes beyond the walls of academia. It is a future where BGU invents a new world and inspires a vision for a stronger Israel and its next generation of leaders. Together with supporters, AABGU will help the University foster excellence in teaching, research and outreach to the communities of the Negev for the next 50 years and beyond. Visit to learn more.

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