A type of anaesthetic machine that has been used in NHS hospitals can be hacked and controlled from afar if left accessible on a hospital computer network, a cyber-security company says.
A successful attacker would be able to change the amount of anaesthetic delivered to a patient, CyberMDX said.
Alarms designed to alert anaesthetists to any danger could also be silenced.
GE Healthcare, which makes the machines, said there was no “direct patient risk”.
But CyberMDX’s research suggested the Aespire and Aestiva 7100 and 7900 devices could be targeted by hackers if left accessible on hospital computer networks.
And we found multiple references online to the Aespire and Aestiva machines being used in NHS Hospitals.
Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) NHS Trust confirmed that “a small number” of the devices were currently in use at its facilities, but were being phased out.
“None of the anaesthetic machines are connected to the internet or the NUH network so there is very little risk around these machines within NUH,” a spokesman told.
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NHS Digital said it could not confirm the extent to which the machines were still in use across the NHS.
“We are currently assessing the volume of these particular anaesthetic machines in use across England and we will be sharing any subsequent advice with trusts in the coming days,” a spokeswoman said.
Elad Luz, head of research at CyberMDX, said he was aware of hospitals in the US and Asia that also used the devices.
GE Healthcare said it was satisfied a cyber-attack would “not introduce clinical hazard or patient risk”.
It said this was because anaesthetic devices were “attended” by anaesthetists and would be monitored for any errors.
The company told it did not plan to release any security updates for the anaesthetic machines but hospitals should use secure network protocols to protect them from would-be hackers.
Cyber-security expert Ken Munro agreed that medical devices should be isolated within computer networks but added: “It’s not, frankly, the case in many hospital networks.”
And he said GE Healthcare should bear some responsibility for the issue.
“GE absolutely have a part to play in this and they absolutely should be building devices with strong security,” Mr Munro added.