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Cheap and now meets medical gear and viruses

Aug 23, 20044 mins

Following last week’s rant about music industry lawyers running amok, reader Mark Brusch chided me: “Well, it’s almost two years later and I will ask again: Do you feel up to organizing these people for the fight or do you want to sit back again and change the subject?”

One of the best ways to be heard is by joining the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). If there is any group addressing the addressable when it comes to issues that concern the online world, the EFF is the one that gets my support and my money.

Through the EFF I have a voice because it is organized by sensible, intelligent people, and there is strength in numbers. If a significant number of BackSpin readers subscribed to the EFF we’d be a force to be reckoned with that would eclipse the petty, partisan interests and dogma of the bureaucrats and big media conglomerates.

On another topic, reader Tom Graly couldn’t help but throw down the gauntlet as well: “Somehow over the years I’ve come to expect you to jump on major violations of common sense. Though your common sense isn’t always mine, that’s OK. [Network World] has run front-page stories on the FDA and medical device makers for the last two weeks with nary a word from BackSpin. . . . While I sympathize with the hospitals going after the device suppliers because that is the only recourse they have, the FDA needs to go to the source of the problem, not the victims.”

So the medical services community is ticked off by medical equipment vendors’ tardiness in upgrading operating systems that run their equipment. Network World’s story last week said, “hospital IT administrators are voicing complaints that manufacturers are failing to patch Windows-based equipment quickly or at all, which then fall prey to computer worms.”

So the gripe from Billy-Bob Medical Service is that the version of Windows that runs the gazillion-dollar ventro-fibriculating diastolyic gazornenplatz isn’t being patched fast enough and Billy-Bob is worrying about the risks. What a load of bull.

Let’s be realistic: Device makers are quite justifiably worried about upgrading operating systems without extensive testing – something that is arguably just this side of impossible to do if you are looking for verifiably secure, reliable operation. But the fear is that the risk of these devices being compromised by malware and hackers is not trivial.

OK, so say device vendors do that magical something and equipment still suffers a malfunction because a patch or upgrade causes instability, or despite enhanced security and reliability, a device gets infected and a patient dies.

Don’t you think that all concerned would take legal action against the device vendor, the hospital and the guy who makes the coffee in the hospital canteen whether or not the equipment vendor has instigated an upgrade?

What really chaps my butt is the idea that device vendors are somehow responsible for the environment that their devices are deployed in! Don’t pretend the equipment vendor is somehow the bad guy when you put the device in an unsafe environment.

If the equipment can’t be upgraded to be reliable in your environment then either replace the damn thing with equipment that is, or protect it.

Put pressure on vendors involved, but don’t expect them to carry your liability. They have businesses to run just as you do. If they don’t want to upgrade and you decide to go with another vendor then tough on them and good for you.

If it is the other way around and you can’t or don’t want to find another vendor, and your existing vendor won’t upgrade, then just shut up. You want to complain? Complain to everyone. If none of them can produce something that is acceptable then any or all of them are the ones to beat up. But be prepared to pay for what you want.

Better still, beat yourself up. You wanted it cheap and now.

Self-flagellation to


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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