Dick Cheney’s defibrillator and medical device hacking

The news this week that former US Vice President Dick Cheney and his cardiologist decided to turn off wireless access to his implanted defibrillator (ICD) in 2007 based on fears of radio-based attacks underlines the increased awareness of security threats to wireless interfacing or programmable devices. The fear of ‘death by malicious hacking’ could very well lessen the sales and acceptance of new wireless-dependent designs in pacemakers, diabetes management/artificial pancreas and even medication ingestion tracking (Proteus). One proposal outlined in medical device supplier blog Qmed is interesting: “Since most proposed attacks would take place from a distance, researchers believe that using a patient’s heartbeat signature as a password could offer an adequate level of security. Using a heartbeat signature password, pacemakers and other devices would only unlock when “fed back” an individual’s heartbeat in real time.”  Yet beyond that, an advanced ‘white hat’ hacker like the late Barnaby Jack envisioned bugs in programming which could negate this to create murdering pacemakers as well as killer insulin pumps. (A look back at Barnaby and his still mysterious death in the Daily MailDick Cheney: Heart implant attack was credible (BBC News) Hat tip to TANN Ireland’s Toni Bunting. Previously in TTA: A ‘mobilized’ artificial pancreas breakthrough included the increased awareness of hack attacks in the medical mainstream and Contributing Editor Charles on compromised smartphone apps.

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