FDA recalls almost half a million pacemakers over hacking concerns

The FDA has put out a recall for almost half a million pacemakers over fears they are vulnerable to being hacked.

In an episode of TV show Homeland, terrorists plotted to hack the vice president’s pacemaker. At the time some may have found the idea ludicrous, but now it’s a very real possibility faced by nearly half a million people.

The pacemakers affected are manufactured by health company Abbott (formerly St. Jude Medical) and have been found to be vulnerable to a wireless attack. As pacemakers keep the heart pumping using wires going directly into the vital organ, it goes without saying how deadly such a hack could be.

Fortunately, the pacemakers do not need to be removed and can be updated within three minutes. However, affected patients need to have the update performed at their medical practice and not at home.

Pacemakers which are manufactured after August 28th will be pre-loaded with the new firmware. Anyone with the Accent, Anthem, Accent MRI, Assurity, Allure, or Assurity MRI models from the company manufactured prior to this date need to get their pacemakers updated as soon as possible.

In a handout (PDF) Abbott describes the vulnerability and risks:

“We have received no reports of device compromise related to the cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the implanted devices impacted by this communication. According to the Department of Homeland Security, compromising the security of these devices would require a highly complex attack. If there were a successful attack, an unauthorized individual (i.e., a nearby attacker) could gain access and issue commands to the implanted medical device through radio frequency (RF) transmission capability, and those unauthorized commands could modify device settings (e.g., stop pacing) or impact device functionality.”

Once again this hacking scare highlights the need for security to be a top priority as we make devices ever more connected.

What are your thoughts on the hacking concern? Let us know in the comments.

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