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NY Times: “Of Fact, Fiction, and Defibrillators”

Research into the privacy and security of implantable medical electronics by UW CSE’s Yoshi Kohno and his collaborators continues to receive press attention following former Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent revelation that the wireless capabilities of his pacemaker/defibrillator had been disabled for security reasons:

Advisa-DR-MRI“Many of the doctors hung up on him, Dr. [Kevin] Fu [of the University of Michigan] said, adding, ‘They thought I was crazy to worry about the security of a device in the chest.’

“Finally, he got together with a colleague, Tadayoshi Kohno, a computer security researcher at the University of Washington. The two investigators and their colleagues set to work seeing if they could breach the security of a defibrillator that had been removed from a patient’s chest.

“The defibrillator and the device used to program it communicated in their own language from a distance no greater than a few inches, Dr. Kohno said. The group figured out the language by turning various therapy commands on and off.

“‘We would intercept the communications,’ Dr. Kohno said. ‘Aha – this is the command that means ‘turn on,’ this is the command that means ‘turn off.’’ After they learned the communication language, ‘we could generate the commands ourselves.’

“At that time, ‘security was not on the radar yet for the medical device community,’ Dr. Fu said. ‘But there was a rapid trend toward wireless communication and Internet connectivity. We definitely raised awareness.'”

Read more here.

October 27, 2013