Killed by code – back to the future

Back in 2011, I thought it’s only a question of time before we have a drive by execution of a politician with an ICD (implanted cardiac device).

Fast forward to Jan 9, 2017 FDA reported in a FDA Safety Communication on “Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Identified in St. Jude Medical’s Implantable Cardiac Devices and Merlin@home Transmitter.

At risk:

  • Patients with a radio frequency (RF)-enabled St. Jude Medical implantable cardiac device and corresponding Merlin@home Transmitter
  • Caregivers of patients with an RF-enabled St. Jude Medical implantable cardiac device and corresponding Merlin@home Transmitter
  • Cardiologists, electrophysiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, and primary care physicians treating patients with heart failure or heart rhythm problems using an RF-enabled St. Jude Medical implantable cardiac device and corresponding Merlin@home Transmitter

I’ve been talking to our medical device customers about mobile security of implanted devices for over 4 years now.

I  gave a talk on mobile medical device security at the Logtel Mobile security conference in Herzliya in 2012 ago and discussed proof of concept attacks on implanted cardiac devices with mobile connectivity.

But – ICD are the edge, the corner case of mobile medical devices.  If a typical family of 2 parents and 3 children have 5 mobile devices, it is a reasonable scenario that this number will double withe devices for fetal monitoring, remote diagnosis of children, home-based urine testing and more.

Mobile medical devices are becoming a pervasive part of the Internet of things; a space of  devices that already outnumber workstations on the Internet by about five to one, representing a $900 billion market that’s growing twice as fast as the PC market.

There are 3 dimensions to medical device security – regulatory (FDA), political (Congress) and cyber (vendors implementing the right cyber security countermeasures)

The FDA is taking a tailored, risk-based approach that focuses on the small subset of mobile apps that meet the regulatory definition of “device” and that:

  • are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device, or
  • transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device.

Mobile apps span a wide range of health functions. While many mobile apps carry minimal risk, those that can pose a greater risk to patients will require FDA review. The FDA guidance document  provides examples of how the FDA might regulate certain moderate-risk (Class II) and high-risk (Class III) mobile medical apps. The guidance also provides examples of mobile apps that are not medical devices, mobile apps that the FDA intends to exercise enforcement discretion and mobile medical apps that the FDA will regulate in Appendix A, Appendix B and Appendix C.

Mobile and medical and regulatory is a pretty sexy area and I’m not surprised that politicians are picking up on the issues. After all, there was an episode of CSI New York  that used the concept of an EMP to kill a person with an ICD, although I imagine that a radio exploit of  an ICD or embedded insulin pump might be hard to identify unless the device itself was logging external commands.

Congress is I believe, more concerned about the regulatory issues than the patient safety and security issues:

Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), both members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter last August asking the GAO to Study Safety, Reliability of Wireless Healthcare Tech and report on the extent to which FCC is:

  • Identifying the challenges and risks posed by the proliferation of medical implants and other devices that make use of broadband and wireless technology.
  • Taking steps to improve the efficiency of the regulatory processes applicable to broadband and wireless enabled medical devices.
  • Ensuring wireless enabled medical devices will not cause harmful interference to other equipment.
  • Overseeing such devices to ensure they are safe, reliable, and secure.Coordinating its activities with the Food and Drug Administration.

At  Black Hat August 2011, researcher Jay Radcliffe, who is also a diabetic, reported how he used his own equipment to show how attackers could compromise instructions to wireless insulin pumps.

Radcliffe found that his monitor had no verification of the remote signal. Worse, the pump broadcasts its unique ID so he was able to send the device a command that put it into SUSPEND mode (a DoS attack). That meant Radcliffe could overwrite the device configurations to inject more insulin. With insulin, you cannot remove it from the body (unless he drinks a sugary food).

The FDA position that it is sufficient for them to warn medical device makers that they are responsible for updating equipment after it’s sold and the downplaying of  the threat by industry groups like The Advanced Medical Technology Association is not constructive.

Following the proof of concept attack on ICDs by Daniel Halperin from the University of Washington, Kevin Fu from U. Mass Amherst et al “Pacemakers and Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators:Software Radio Attacks and Zero-Power Defenses”  this is a strident wakeup call to medical device vendors  to  implement more robust protocols  and tighten up software security of their devices.

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