I hacked grandma’s pacemaker

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Anyone who knows me knows that this is not literally true; both of my grandmothers have passed on. But my point is this: according to a recent experiment, one model of Medtronic heart pacemaker has been demonstrated to possess a security weakness that permits an intruder to actually shut down a pacemaker or cause it to emit jolts of electricity that could kill a person using one.

If anyone was holding out and believed that vulnerabilities were the exclusive domain of computers and the Internet, hopefully this will jolt your thinking. A great many (if not the vast majority) of electronic devices can probably be shown to be subject to malfunction if they are subjected to RF frequencies. Why should a pacemaker, a small electronic device, be any different? Now, perhaps some gifted researchers can put their energy into a study of whether any particular brand of pocket calculator is vulnerable to attack, but so what? The worst that could happen is the failure to balance one’s checkbook or make an some errors while filling out one’s tax return.

But sometimes lives are on the line. We depend on small electronic devices – pacemakers and more – to keep people alive. So back to the main point: if pacemakers are indeed vulnerable, what are the makers of pacemakers to do? Shield them in RF-resistant enclosures? Perhaps.

Articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/12/business/12heart-web.html

The actual report:

http://www.secure-medicine.org/icd-study/icd-study.pdf

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