Breaking News

Pacemakers Vulnerable to Hackers: Malicious hackers can kill

0 0

2008 posted for filing
Contact: Claire Bowles
claire.bowles@newscientist.com
44-207-611-1210
New Scientist

How to stop a new type of heart attack

PACEMAKERS are supposed to protect people from heart attacks. But to do that they have to provide digital as well as biological security.

Earlier this year, a team led by William Maisel at Harvard Medical School demonstrated how a commercial radio transmitter could be used to modify wireless communications from a pacemaker (New Scientist, 22 March, p 23). Doctors normally use these signals to monitor and adjust the implanted device, but a malicious hacker could reprogram the pacemaker to give its wearer damaging shocks, or run down its batteries.

Such irresponsible attacks might seem inconceivable, but Tamara Denning, a computer scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, points out that in 2007 hackers posted flashing images to the Epilepsy Foundation’s website, apparently with the aim of triggering attacks in people with photosensitive epilepsy.

Pacemaker users could be similarly targeted, and there are a growing number of other implantable medical devices (IMDs) – such as drug pumps, neural stimulators, swallowable cameras and prosthetics – which could also be undermined by pranksters or even killers. Researchers like Denning believe it’s worth being prepared. “We wanted to draw attention not to a prevalent threat, but to a possible future one,” she says.

Securing IMDs is problematic, however, because it is difficult to distinguish between malicious and benevolent communications. Some seemingly obvious solutions are unsuitable: for example, encrypting the IMD signals would be risky because doctors might not be able to get hold of the encryption key in an emergency.

Denning and her colleagues have proposed that IMD users wear a “cloaker” device that tells the IMD to ignore any unexpected instructions. When doctors need to talk to the device, they can simply remove the cloaker.

Designing the system poses unique challenges. The cloaker itself has to be resistant to electronic attack, and the system must “fail open” rather than “fail closed”, allowing doctors access to the IMD if the cloaker breaks down or is lost. And continual communication with the cloaker will eat into the IMD’s battery life.

The researchers have built a PC-based simulation of how a cloaker might work, and suggest that it could be worn like a wristwatch.

Maisel, however, thinks the proposal is unrealistic. In an emergency, the cloaker might be hard for doctors to find – hidden in the patient’s clothing, for example. “You’re asking hundreds of thousands or millions of people to wear something every day for a theoretical risk.”

 

###

IF REPORTING ON THIS STORY, PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://www.newscientist.com

UK CONTACT – Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London:
Tel: +44(0)20 7611 1210 or email claire.bowles@newscientist.co.uk

US CONTACT – New Scientist Boston office:
Tel: +1 617 386 2190 or email j.heselton@elsevier.com

About Post Author

Ralph Turchiano

I have a strong affinity for the sciences which led me to create my sites. My compulsion for the past decade has been reviewing literally every peer-reviewed research article. Which can easily be validated by following my posts. To me, science is where the real news is, as it will mold our destiny beyond that of politics or economics. 😉 Please feel free to e-mail: 161803p314159@gmail.com
Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleppy
Sleppy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%
%d bloggers like this: