The security expert who hacked his own insulin pump revealed that the device came from Medtronic Inc. (NYSE:MDT), and accused the med-tech giant of ignoring his warnings.
Today the Natick, Mass.-based med-tech giant posted its official response to the hullabaloo, writing that it takes device information security very seriously but sees malicious medical device hacking as a very low threat.
"As technology evolves, we will continually incorporate measures to maintain information security while ensuring our devices meet their intended purpose of improving and extending lives," according to a statement on the company’s site.
Medtronic says it keeps a watchful eye on the security landscape and incorporates the latest research findings into its design process, which is why it attends conferences like the Black Hat meeting in Las Vegas this month where reports of hacking an insulin pump first emerged.
Jay Radcliffe, a diabetic and cyber threat intelligence analyst at IBM, presented results from experimenting on his own insulin pump at the Black Hat security conference, but he never revealed the brand of the pump in question or how he exploited its vulnerabilities.
"My initial reaction was that this was really cool from a technical perspective," Radcliffe told reporters. "The second reaction was one of maybe sheer terror, to know that there’s no security around the devices which are a very active part of keeping me alive."
"This is a pretty rare incident. We’ve never had a real report of a real hacking case affecting anybody," Medtronic’s newly minted CEO said during a shareholder conference last week. "We take our security seriously – but we also consider it a very unlikely event."
After feeling dismissed by Medtronic and taking exception to public comments from the company, Radcliffe took the issue to the the public in order to pressure the company into making some changes, the Associated Press reported. Radcliffe claims the Dept. of Homeland Security made an introduction between him and the company, but calls and emails still went unanswered.
"We’ve never been contacted by the Department of Homeland Security," Medtronic spokesperson Steve Cragle told MassDevice. He insisted that the company was taking Radcliffe’s findings into consideration in an internal investigation. "We’ve been very open to his concerns."
Cragle called Radcliffe’s claims that calls and emails were ignored "just false," and was unstirred by Radcliffe’s promise to expose the pump’s vulnerabilities.
"We have already been working over the past several years to incorporate powerful encryption and security measures into our next generation products, including insulin pumps," according to MDT’s statement. " In addition, we collaborate with outside security experts and across business units to design our products with information security in mind to create rigorous, complex safeguards."
Minneapolis, Minn.-based Medtronic seemed skeptical of the Radcliffe’s anecdotal evidence shortly after the presentation made headlines, saying that his direct access to the pump and remote device and that his conscious decision to turn on the wireless feature of the pump were beyond the type of access a malicious hacker could reasonably have.
Radcliffe responded that the wireless feature he exploited can’t be accessed or switched off.
"To our knowledge, there has never been a single reported incident outside of controlled laboratory experiments in more than 30 years of device telemetry use, which includes millions of devices worldwide," a director of PR from Medtronic’s insulin pump subsidiary MiniMed Inc. told TuDiabetes.org, an online social network for diabetics.
All instances of hacked medical devices so far have come from research teams who had access to the devices and specialized equipment, not likely for real-world hackers. Just in case, researchers at MIT are working on a defensive device to jam unwanted signals from malicious sources.
Radcliffe’s story recently got the attention of several members of Congress, who urged the Government Accountability Office to investigate the safety and security of wireless medical devices.
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