The most commonly used protocol for transferring data from wearable devices used for remote patient monitoring contained 33 vulnerabilities, including 19 “critical vulnerabilities” in 2021 alone, according to a report released on Monday.

These are 10 times more critical vulnerabilities than found in 2020, and many of them remain unpatched, revealed the report led by global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky.

Some of these vulnerabilities also give attackers the potential to intercept data being sent online from the device, the report said.

The most common protocol for transmitting data from wearable devices and sensors is the MQTT protocol. It is easy, convenient, and is found not only in wearable devices but also in almost any smart gadget.

But, the authentication is completely optional and rarely includes encryption.

This makes MQTT highly susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks (when attackers can place themselves between “two parties” while they communicate), meaning any data transferred over the internet could potentially be stolen.

Since 2014, 90 vulnerabilities in MQTT have been discovered, including critical ones, many of which remain unpatched, the report revealed.

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“The pandemic has led to a sharp growth in the telehealth market, and this doesn’t just involve communicating with your doctor via video software,” said Maria Namestnikova, Head of the Russian Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT) at Kaspersky, in a statement.

“We’re talking about a whole range of complex, rapidly evolving technologies and products, including specialised applications, wearable devices, implantable sensors, and cloud-based databases,” she added.

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Most wearable devices track both health data, location and movements, opening up the possibility of not just stealing data but also potentially stalking, the report said.

Further, Kaspersky researchers found vulnerabilities not only in the MQTT protocol but also one of the most popular platforms for wearable devices: the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wearable platform.

There have been more than 400 vulnerabilities found since the platform was launched; not all have been patched, including some from 2020.

Namestnikova said that many hospitals are still using untested third-party services to store patient data, and vulnerabilities in healthcare wearable devices and sensors remain open.

“Before implementing such devices, learn as much as you can about their level of security to keep the data of your company and your patients safe,” she advised.

To keep patient data safe, Kaspersky recommends that healthcare providers must check the security of the application or device, minimize the data transferred by telehealth apps if possible, do not send the location, change passwords from default ones and use encryption.