Science fiction or reality? Medical implant attacks: murder by radio signal
I've always been a fan of science fiction and spy stories but I ran across an article on the BBC News web-site that was a bit too chilling even for me. Could someone actually be murdered by a person with a medical implant device by using a radio signal? I can almost see the plot line of spy thriller: a foreign dignitary is murdered when his defibrillator is switched off via a cell phone.
In "Warning over medical implant attacks", technology correspondent Mark Ward writing for the BBC says studies reveal that medical implants are vulnerable to attacks and lives could be threatened.
Today, many patients have medical devices implanted in their bodies: Diabetics have insulin pumps which deliver insulin as needed, people with heart conditions have pacemakers to regulate their heart beat and others have defibrillators that can get a heart back into rhythm.
Some of these medical devices have wireless connections which allow physicians to monitor, update or adjust the devices remotely.
A researcher at the Internet security firm, McAfee, has discovered that these medical devices may be vulnerable to attack through their wireless connections. Researcher Barnaby Jack said:
We can influence any [insulin] pump within a 300ft [91m] range. We can do that without requiring its ID number.
Research Professor Kevin Fu at the University of Massachusetts is doing research work that is similar to McAfee's and he has found that it is possible to turn off a defibrillator by capturing the radio signal.
While up to now, there have been no reports of a person or entity hacking a medical device, it is comforting to know that scientists are out there working on technology to safeguard patients.