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Hackable hearts: A real threat, and a wake-up call

Given the opportunity, hackers will hack anything they can get their hands on. Nothing is off limits, not even our bodies. Not even the human heart.

And as it turns out, raising awareness of that issue isn’t a bad thing.

The DEFCON hacker event that takes place in Las Vegas each year becomes a demonstration of the latest things that have been hacked somehow, and the list of conquests over the years is long and fascinating. A human heart itself, and specifically a pacemaker or other cardiac implant, has not yet been hacked as far as we know. A recent story at Motherboard illustrated how a security researcher plans to discuss her personal concerns over how vulnerable something like a pacemaker can be.

Things that could go wrong with a pacemaker go well beyond the threat of a hacker, of couse, and include the inability to easily update the device, potential malfunctions, software flaws, and more.

One of the most famous hacks in this field was executed in 2012 by the beloved and famous hacker Barnaby Jack. Adding to his list of infamous hacks, he suggested that a laptop from as far as 50 feet away could deliver an 830-volt shock to patients through their pacemakers and implanted defibrillators. Although Jack passed away and never got to demonstrate it at DEFCON as he had planned, based on his reputation and standing in the community, no one ever doubted that he had found a serious issue.

We are intrinsically intertwined with technology

We are intrinsically intertwined with technology, and in the case of medical devices, that is becoming more relevant than ever before. Researchers have exposed an ever-closer co-existence between electronics and human health, including the potential for flaws, and the need to make sure these devices are designed appropriately.

It makes sense to create the most secure devices possible, and to apply the same principles that secure other devices to the ones we have entrusted with our health, and indeed have had inserted into our very bodies.