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The importance of cyber security

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

While technology can give healthcare a shot in the arm, we must also be aware of the risks involved, says Ronita Torcato

The golden age of technology has brought wondrous digital devices into our daily lives: from cheap, inter-active communication (mobile phones!)  to gadgets for monitoring and managing our health and wellness activities.

Increasingly, healthcare is impacted by the Internet, mobile medical apps and telemedicine. Digital tools have proven benefits but could also be detrimental. (WHO has included cellphones in its list of things that could cause cancer.)

At CyberComm 2018,  a conference on cybersecurity organised recently in Mumbai by FICCI, experts stressed the need for the security and safety of  medical digital devices. As it happens, the dangerous breach of a medical device has been showcased in  Homeland, the award-winning American TV series with the depiction of an assassination by the terrorist hacking of a politician's pacemaker.

The US is the world's largest health market; nearly three million Americans are fitted with pacemakers and Homeland's scriptwriters were inspired by the real-life apprehensions of former US Vice-President Dick Cheney who disabled his pacemaker's wireless capabilities.

A  FICCI panel approvingly quoted  visionary tech entrepreneur Elon Musk's recent tweet that automation at Tesla  was "a mistake; (as) we have undermined human beings too much." and made a clarion call for caution in dealing with  New Age Technologies especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) Machine Learning (ML) and Internet of Things (IoT), a network of connected devices, vehicles and home appliances.

In 2015, the US FDA advised healthcare providers not to use connected infusion pumps as they could be hacked to attack patients. Then there is the risk of illegal usage or abuse of confidential information. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica exploited data for financial and political considerations. Medical info could likewise be misused.

French drugmaker Sanofi's Senior Director, Security & Intelligence, Pramod Bhatt said drug companies spend at least USD 2 billion over 15 years of research on a new drug and "AI will shrink time and money".

Few may be aware that pharma's R&D work-in-progress is the second most targeted sector of espionage. Two years ago, a Punjab company was locked and asked for ransom by hackers (who can also inflict physical harm by causing accidents.)

Unlike the super-intelligent, even moral robots in Isaac Asimov's 1942 collection of sci fi stories I, Robot, which was made into the 2012 film starring Will Smith, what AI lacks right now is commonsense aka human cognitive abilities and as NABARD'S Chief Technology Adviser Boda Gupta noted, AI and ML are trying to mimic the human.

Capgemini's Kalpesh Doshi said AI was an attempt to replace natural intelligence and recalled the late Stephen Hawking's warning that as AI expands we should prepare for our extinction.

S.Sridharan of CISO NCDEX noted that ML and AI are are being used for writing codes. "But who will take responsibility for mistakes?"

For cyber criminals hacking AI,ML and algorithms is very easy. The human brain is also intuitive, which AI and ML lack, Basant Shroff, Partner EY India said, adding self-learning activities like AI and ML can be destructive if not controlled.

On an average, some 182 malwares are unleashed each day. As Balsingh Rajput, Supdt. of Police-Cyber, Maharashtra observed, "Technology is never bad, it is the human mind which is bad."

On a happy note, Sanofi's Bhatt talked about his company's tie-up with Google in a USD $500 million diabetes joint venture combining devices  (like insulin pens) with online services.

As many as  400 million people worldwide have diabetes, with the type 2 version accounting for more than 90 percent of cases. As things stand, India is the world's diabetes capital with more than 62 million diabetics; yet there are  no nationwide studies on the prevalence of this disease which is associated with strokes and kidney ailments.

Sadly, more than half of healthcare providers in India lack a proper healthcare IT roadmap. Worse, India ranks a lowly 154 out of 195 countries in healthcare.

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