Hacking the pacemaker

A team of University of Amherst (Massasuchets, USA) studied the security and privacy of commercial pacemaker. They discovered that it was weak. Current pacemakers and implantable cardiac defibrillators have some means to wirelessly communicate with external programmer device. The programmer device can collect patient data and adapt the therapy of the patient. Furthermore, it can generate fibrillations in test mode.

The communication is not protected. Of course, through eavesdropping, the team was able to reverse engineer the protocol. Then, they were able, through simple replay attacks to get patient data, change the therapies of the patient, and even to induce fibrillations. Another attack was a denial power attack where continuous communication diminished the lifetime of the implanted battery.

The hack itself is not extremely interesting (from the technical point of view). Hacking an unprotected wireless link is not a big deal. Is it really dangerous? In any case, any person who would be ready to play with an implanted pacemaker is necessarily murder minded (and then he has other means perhaps more efficient at his disposal)

The problem is more interesting when looking how to secure it. Due to the specific characteristics of the target, there are some important constraints:
– The power consumption is important. Replacing the battery require surgery! Cryptography requires power. Strong cryptography requires even more power. Furthermore, this type of devices is very sensitive to power denial attacks.
– The access to the pacemaker must be easy and fast for every practitioner. He must not have to look through many credentials, and secure database to find the right key in case of emergency.
– It must be reliable.
In this case, there is a tradeoff to find between security and practicability.

With the advent of the wireless interconnected area, this type of challenge will become extremely common. There will be more and more power supplied constrained devices to protect. Low power consumption cryptography: A new field of exploration?

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