U of M Looks to Tackle Medical Device Cybersecurity

U of M Looks to Tackle Medical Device Cybersecurity

Working in concert with five health industry companies, the university is establishing a new center devoted to cybersecurity for medical devices.

With funding from five health care giants, the University of Minnesota is formally launching a new center devoted to cybersecurity for medical devices.

In a press release issued Wednesday, U officials said the move comes “in response to a request from members of the medical device manufacturing industry.”

“Enhancing the state of Minnesota’s strong legacy in medical devices, the center will focus on developing new research, technologies, education and training to address potential cybersecurity threats,” the university said in the release.

Who’s providing financial backing for the venture? According to the university, the center is funded “in large part” by Boston Scientific, Smiths Medical, Optum, Medtronic, and Abbott Laboratories. The U hasn’t yet shared how much the companies are providing, or an annual budget for the new center. Optum is a subsidiary of Minnetonka-based insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. Abbott Laboratories and Boston Scientific are headquartered outside of Minnesota, but they both have a substantial presence in the state.

Federal regulators have been sounding the alarm about potential cybersecurity threats for medical devices, which are becoming increasingly cloud-based. Almost two years ago, the Food and Drug Administration called attention to “a set of cybersecurity vulnerabilities … that—if exploited by a remote hacker—may introduce risks for medical devices and hospital networks.”

Medical device companies have acknowledged similar vulnerabilities, too. In June 2019, Medtronic reported a cybersecurity flaw in its insulin pumps that could enable hackers to control insulin delivery for patients.

The U is tapping veterinary medicine professor Katey Pelican to helm the new cybersecurity initiative. Pelican also serves as co-director of the U’s Strategic Partnerships and Research Collaborative.

“Through the establishment of the Center for Medical Device Cybersecurity, the University is poised to develop future workforce leaders and conduct cutting-edge research that will elevate the entire industry in this vitally important and expanding space,” Pelican said in the release.

In its first year, the new center will host roundtables and a hackathon, and help establish a medical device cybersecurity short course, according to the release. The center will also establish a summer internship on the topic.