Skip to main content

Algorithms that detect cancer can be fooled by hacked images

Algorithms that detect cancer can be fooled by hacked images

/

Human radiologists don’t recognize fake images either

Share this story

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Artificial intelligence programs that check medical images for evidence of cancer can be duped by hacks and cyberattacks, according to a new study. Researchers demonstrated that a computer program could add or remove evidence of cancer from mammograms, and those changes fooled both an AI tool and human radiologists.

That could lead to an incorrect diagnosis. An AI program helping to screen mammograms might say a scan is healthy when there are actually signs of cancer or incorrectly say that a patient does have cancer when they’re actually cancer free. Such hacks are not known to have happened in the real world yet, but the new study adds to a growing body of research suggesting healthcare organizations need to be prepared for them.

Hackers are increasingly targeting hospitals and healthcare institutions with cyberattacks. Most of the time, those attacks siphon off patient data (which is valuable on the black market) or lock up an organization’s computer systems until that organizations pays a ransom. Both of those types of attacks can harm patients by gumming up the operations at a hospital and making it harder for healthcare workers to deliver good care.

But experts are also growing more worried about the potential for more direct attacks on people’s health. Security researchers have shown that hackers can remotely break into internet-connected insulin pumps and deliver dangerous doses of the medication, for example.

Hacks that can change medical images and impact a diagnosis also fall into that category. In the new study on mammograms, published in Nature Communications, a research team from the University of Pittsburgh designed a computer program that would make the X-ray scans of breasts that originally appeared to have no signs of cancer look like they were cancerous, and that would make mammograms that look cancerous appear to have no signs of cancer. They then fed the tampered images to an artificial intelligence program trained to spot signs of breast cancer and asked five human radiologists to decide if the images were real or fake.

Around 70 percent of the manipulated images fooled that program — that is, the AI wrongly said that images manipulated to look cancer-free were cancer-free, and that the images manipulated to look like they had cancer did have evidence of cancer. As for the radiologists, some were better at spotting manipulated images than others. Their accuracy at picking out the fake images ranged widely, from 29 percent to 71 percent.

Other studies have also demonstrated the possibility that a cyberattack on medical images could lead to incorrect diagnoses. In 2019, a team of cybersecurity researchers showed that hackers could add or remove evidence of lung cancer from CT scans. Those changes also fooled both human radiologists and artificial intelligence programs.

There haven’t been public or high-profile cases where a hack like this has happened. But there are a few reasons a hacker might want to manipulate things like mammograms or lung cancer scans. A hacker might be interested in targeting a specific patient, like a political figure, or they might want to alter their own scans to get money from their insurance company or sign up for disability payments. Hackers might also manipulate images randomly and refuse to stop tampering with them until a hospital pays a ransom.

Whatever the reason, demonstrations like this one show that healthcare organizations and people designing AI models should be aware that hacks that alter medical scans are a possibility. Models should be shown manipulated images during their training to teach them to spot fake ones, study author Shandong Wu, associate professor of radiology, biomedical informatics, and bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a statement. Radiologists might also need to be trained to identify fake images.

“We hope that this research gets people thinking about medical AI model safety and what we can do to defend against potential attacks,” Wu said.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


A
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.