Tag Archives: Internet of Things

Hacking a Pacemaker??

 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.


Go Ahead, Hackers. Break My Heart



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Rise of The Machines

Machines don’t have to take over the world to make your life Hell. It’s far more likely that the human factor will provide most of the Hell, when someone with nefarious intent takes over your machines.

The next in a long series of Utopian dreams is the “Internet of Things” (IoT). In this world, your light bulbs, your thermostat, your door locks, your phone, your car,  your refrigerator, your washing machine, and your TV will all be able to “talk” to each other and will be connected to the internet, leading to such wondrous events as:

When you leave the office, your thermostat, knowing from your car that you’re on the way home, will set itself to the perfect temperature so you’ll be comfortable when you arrive. Your door will automatically unlock itself when you park your car in the garage, and the kitchen light will turn on so you can get yourself a beer out of the refrigerator, which will sense that it is the last beer and automatically add beer to the shopping list…

Human Error

I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t let you do that…

Or: Someone drives by and connects to your Wi-Fi, bypassing the weak security on your network, turns your thermostat all the way up, orders a pallet-load of peanut butter from Amazon with your credit card, shouts obscenities to your toddler through your baby monitor, posts naked pictures of you from your webcam on Facebook (along with your address and the fact that you live alone), flashes your lights uncontrollably, and then when you try to drive away, causes your brakes to fail…

Or: Your health insurance company notices, thanks to your refrigerator and  supermarket loyalty card, that you’re smoking and drinking more than usual, and not only raises your premiums, but schedules you for mandatory mental-health counseling, which in turn bars you from gun ownership and causes you to lose your job. The FBI investigates you because you’ve bought more swimming-pool chlorine and fertilizer than anybody needs, leading them to believe you might be building a bomb, and causing your friends to distance themselves from you, lest they be caught in the dragnet. Oh, and your car automatically calls the police whenever you (even briefly while passing) exceed the speed limit, leading to the mandated self-driving car…

Is it really worth some small increase in convenience, safety, or efficiency to give a faceless entity such intrusive control of our lives? Remember, anything that can be programmed can be hacked: Your car, phone, refrigerator, house, anything. And when it’s connected to the internet, the intruder could be 5,000 miles away. Machines achieving self-awareness and killing off humans seems less of a threat than humans using Big Data to achieve the perfect totalitarian state.

I, for one, will not be buying a “connected” thermostat, car, or light bulb. I want the freedom to turn things off and make sure they stay off.

What is the biggest threat?

The Machines want to Take Over, but the humans may be a larger threat.




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