How to Prevent Heart Hackers From Turning Off Pacemakers

By Brett Israel | November 11, 2009 7:21 am

no-pacemaker-sign-webMany medical devices come equipped with wireless communication systems these days, allowing doctors to customize their operations or to see their patents’ information. But fitting pacemakers or implanted defibrillators with WiFi also opens the door to hackers‘ attacks. Hackers could potentially steal personal information, remotely drain batteries, or cause a dangerous malfunction, so researchers are working on ways to block them. The approach relies on using ultrasound waves to determine the exact distance between a medical device and the wireless reader attempting to communicate with it [Technology Review]. The plan is to only allow access to a medical device from wireless reading devices within 10 feet, and only then after a series of authentication steps. However, in the event of an emergency, the medical device would grant access to anyone within a few inches of the device. In other words, to anyone close enough to assist.

The research team also has to consider how much power their security measures will drain from the devices, which is a not-so-trivial point for a  battery-operated pacemaker. But Claude Castelluccia, who was involved with designing the security system, said that because the device won’t respond to requests that come from outside the predetermined distance, it would also be harder for an attacker to wear down the battery by forcing it to process one request after another [Technology Review]. To test their system, researchers recently implanted a medical device in the stomach of a cow, and they’re currently shopping their patented technology to potential developers.

Related Content:
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Cyber Attack Hits Government Web Sites; North Korea Is Blamed
“Soupnazi” Hacker Pleads Guilty to Stealing Millions of Credit Card Numbers

Image: flickr / library_mistress

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology
MORE ABOUT: computers, hackers, privacy
  • Andrew

    What awful soul would purposely drain the power from a pacemaker?!

  • Dave in Calif

    The same ones that would fly airlines into buildings Andrew

  • Henry

    Oh, Cheney. Does he wear a Darth Vader costume when he does it?

  • Mikkel

    Good one Henry.

    I doubt that there is any real danger of a coordinated attack by Iraqi terrorists on the pacemakers of american people. But I suppose it is comforting to have a predefined image of a bad person.

  • Andrew

    Wow. The scope of human nature never ceases to amaze me; hacking pacemakers to malfunction? Mann.! C’mon.

  • prim


  • Reggie

    In the future we’ll all have pacemakers which can be remotely disabled by the government if we don’t obey.

  • Chardy

    To all those that are saying how aweful it is that someone would attack a pacemaker:
    Nobody is suggesting anybody would do it, or has done it.

    But I think we all know that some people out there would.

    We should be grateful that the doctors thought of it before the attackers did.

  • Daniel

    This is crap. The story should replace murder with hacker. Hackers have nothing to do with this. Unreal. Did Obama call a press conference and tell America that the next great threat to our country is “hackers” running around with black boxes that disable pace makers? How do you know if someone even has a pace maker? Don’t microwaves interfere with pace makers? That has been known for some time.

  • Feyd

    If we can’t get Harkonnen heart plugs, we can assassinate via battery DoS.

  • Jim Hobbs

    Wow that makes pretty good sense to me dude!


  • James

    I’d suggest the bigger risk for the US here is remote deactivation due to insurance issues. Like when they decide your heart problem was a condition ‘pre-existing’ compared to your pacemaker and decides to cut the chance they’ll have to spend time to fight or deny a valid claim for the maintnence, replacement or verification of the thing in the future by leaving you nice and dead.

    Which they can charge you again for.

  • Beth

    Dave in Calif…….many thanks for showing you at least care for those that have pacemakers. My husband will have one inserted next Friday. Thanks also to Brett for posting the article.

  • Andrew

    Chardy people are suggesting it and by saying “But I think we all know that some people out there would.” YOU are also suggesting that people would do it LOL

  • mr.comment

    Interesting, who made your shirt? Van Heusen? Versacci? Nope… Faraday!

  • pink cd player, Boom Box, Mr Player, box maker, boom music, mrs pink, pink, cd player

    pwn123 wants to connect to your Pacemaker. CANCEL or ALLOW?

  • vzw

    Great, now humans will get heart worms too……and heart trojans, and heart spyware…

  • paul

    pwn123 wants to connect to your Pacemaker. CANCEL or ALLOW?

  • http://google kelly

    is it good to use pacemakers???i am doing a project on it.

  • InfidelAvenger

    I could only imagine the only people who would try this one would be serial killers and murderers.

  • kjhkjlkjh

    Serial killers and murders?

    That’s what we would call someone who intentionally takes away someone else’s life?

    Thanks genius.

    Why do you people waste your time saying some of this s***.

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • Adalberto Clingan

    You made some first rate factors there. I looked on the internet for the problem and located most people will go along with along with your website.


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