MASSDEVICE ON CALL — When former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was fitted in 2007 with an implanted defibrillator, doctors ordered the manufacturer to shut off the device’s wireless communication capacities, out of fear that the device may be vulnerable to cyber-attack.
In a 60 Minutes interview published over the weekend, Cheney’s cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Reiner said that the was aware of cybersecurity concerns with medical devices and that he felt it was necessary to protect the prominent public figure from malicious hackers.
"It seemed to me to be a bad idea for the vice president to have a device that maybe somebody on a rope line or in the next hotel room or downstairs might be able to get into – hack into," Reiner told 60 Minutes. "And I worried that someone could kill you."
That exact scenario played out late last year in an episode of the television drama Homeland, in which terrorists hacked the vice president’s pacemaker, causing it to deliver fatal jolts of electricity.
"I was aware of the danger, if you will, that existed but I found it credible," Cheney said of the episode. "Because I know from the experience we had and the necessity for adjusting my own device that it was an accurate portrayal of what was possible."
Researchers have proved in lab experiments that implanted, active cardiac devices are vulnerable to cyber-attack, as are other wireless-enabled medical devices such as insulin pumps and hospital management systems.
Although the FDA has taken a greater interest in medtech cybersecurity, even so far as releasing new guidelines and building a “cybersecurity laboratory,” no real-world instances of malicious medical device hacking have yet been reported. Security researchers have warned, however, that the lack of reports are likely due to a lack of proper monitoring and reporting mechanisms.
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