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Implantable medical devices may expose patients to security, privacy risks; solutions suggested
Date:3/12/2008

Some medical devices such as implantable cardiac defibrillators and pacemakers are now equipped with wireless technology, allowing for remote device checks and freeing patients from repeated doctor visits. But this convenience may come with unanticipated risks. A team of researchers from three leading universities has demonstrated that patients private medical information could be extracted and their devices reprogrammed without the patients authorization or knowledge.

There has never been a reported case of a patient with an implantable cardiac defibrillator or pacemaker being targeted by hackers, and the researchers emphasized that the study was designed to identify and prevent future problems. Undertaking the study required a high level of technical expertise, and the published paper omits certain details in methodology that prevents the findings from being used for anything other than improving patient security and privacy.

The study was led by two computer scientists, Tadayoshi Kohno of the University of Washington and Kevin E. Fu of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and cardiologist Dr. William H. Maisel of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. Their scholarly peer-reviewed report will be presented and published at the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Symposium on Security and Privacy in Oakland, Calif., May 19, 2008.

Dr. Maisel, director of the Medical Device Safety Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, notes, One of the purposes of this research is to encourage the medical device industry to think more carefully about the security and privacy of patient information, particularly as wireless communication becomes more common. Fortunately, there are some safeguards already in place, but device manufacturers can do better.

The team expects this issue to take on greater importance as implantable cardiac defibrillators operate wirelessly at grea
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Contact: Hannah Hickey
hickeyh@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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