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Technology

How to Prevent Heart Hackers From Turning Off Pacemakers

80beatsBy Brett IsraelNovember 11, 2009 11:21 AM
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Many 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.

Image: flickr / library_mistress

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