Hacking Dick Cheney: A Cautionary Tale

The medical-device wireless-hacking issue made 60 Minutes last night. This is a problem that needs to be addressed now.

I've mentioned this before, but what's going to happen when people start dying because the implanted wireless devices that are keeping them alive are hacked? The time has come, just as is the case in any other dimension of wireless activity and applications, for security to be taken seriously.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still like watching 60 Minutes on Sunday nights, just as I have since the show first went on the air decades ago. While I'm not a big fan of Dick Cheney (to put it mildly; but I wish him no ill, unlike the majority of comments I've seen regarding the 60 Minutes interview - really sad that we've sunk to such a level of outright hatred, but I digress), I was interested to see how modern technology, and of course particularly that related to wireless, saved his life. As I mentioned when I wrote about the Abiomed fully-implantable artificial heart some time ago, wireless monitoring and control are critical, but the level of technology we're throwing at the problem is, um, lagging, to put it mildly.

I was surprised to find that Cheney's doctors ordered the wireless control feature of his implanted defibrillator disabled due to a concern that the device could be hacked with fatal results. After that, I wasn't surprised to hear that a TV drama, "Homeland", mentioned in the 60 Minutes piece, and which I personally have not seen, has already used this possibility in a story line, killing a fictional VP via wireless hacking. Two points: I have no idea how a fully-implanted device might be controlled, other than via wireless (although I don't know the specific model of device involved in Mr. Cheney's case), and I can't believe that better security precautions have not been deployed with these. This is about as mission-critical as it gets, after all. As I noted in the first link above, this is a problem that absolutely must be solved, and soon. We have the technology - and, as my wife often remarks when I fail once again to clean up the various messes I make around the house, I too must ask: what's the holdup here?

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