Nothing But the Best

What’s the worst that could happen if the programmer for your pacemaker accepts software updates that aren’t digitally signed or delivered via a security connection? It could accept a malicious software update that when pushed to your pacemaker could literally kill you. With stakes so high you might expect the manufacturer of such a device to have a vested interest in fixing it. After all, people keeling over dead because you didn’t implement basic security features on your product isn’t going to make for good headlines. But it turns out that that isn’t the case:

At the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, researchers Billy Rios and Jonathan Butts said they first alerted medical device maker Medtronic to the hacking vulnerabilities in January 2017. So far, they said, the proof-of-concept attacks they developed still work. The duo on Thursday demonstrated one hack that compromised a CareLink 2090 programmer, a device doctors use to control pacemakers after they’re implanted in patients.

Because updates for the programmer aren’t delivered over an encrypted HTTPS connection and firmware isn’t digitally signed, the researchers were able to force it to run malicious firmware that would be hard for most doctors to detect. From there, the researchers said, the compromised machine could cause implanted pacemakers to make life-threatening changes in therapies, such as increasing the number of shocks delivered to patients.

Killing people through computer hacks has been a mainstay of Hollywood for a long time. When Hollywood first used that plot point, it was unlikely. Today software is integrated into so many critical systems that that plot point is feasible. Security needs to be taken far more seriously, especially by manufacturers to develop such critical products.

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