Connectivity equals vulnerability.
What does that mean? It means that the more ways a device can connect to the outside world (interface), the more vulnerabilities it has to unauthorized access. As an analogy, you have very little chance of being hit by a bus if you stay in your house. But you can’t stay in your house forever. The problem then becomes managing the risk/reward equation.
Medical devices usually have a very favorable risk/reward scenario: They unquestionably save lives – most of the time. But, as with everything else in our increasingly complex world, people want them to be wirelessly connected for convenience.
This is particularly important for implanted medical devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps. Cutting a patient open every time you need to change the settings is painful, expensive, and dangerous, so modern implantable devices use some sort of wireless system. The doctor simply uploads new software to the device in a matter of minutes without bloodshed.
But… What happens if someone else gains access to the device? Someone with nefarious intent? Like many other devices, these things can be vulnerable to outside connections, and, once inside, it’s possible to alter them, with conceivably fatal consequences.
As mentioned in a previous post about the so-called “Internet of Things,” many of these products have gaping security holes, sometimes with no way to update them short of getting a new device. The code they run on is usually proprietary, which means it’s very difficult for security researchers to tease out problems – and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act might even make it illegal!
Former Vice President Dick Cheney even had the wireless capability on his pacemaker disabled to forestall a possible attack of this sort.
Unfortunately, Barnaby Jack, one of the primary researchers into these vulnerabilities suddenly died in 2013, under slightly mysterious circumstances. Of course, conspiracy theories abound. Hopefully, others will pick up where he left off.
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