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Wireless Implants Can Be `Hacked,' Study Finds

Implanted devices that use wireless technology are vulnerable to being `hacked,' or accessed in an unauthorized manner, a new study finds. The authors of the study, which was performed on a lab bench and not in live patients, were able to send unauthorized commands to wireless devices such as pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators. These commands enabled them to reprogram settings, retrieve patient data, and even deliver potentially fatal shocks.

Implanted devices that use wireless technology are vulnerable to being `hacked,' or accessed in an unauthorized manner, a new study finds. The authors of the study, which was performed on a lab bench and not in live patients, were able to send unauthorized commands to wireless devices such as pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators. These commands enabled them to reprogram settings, retrieve patient data, and even deliver potentially fatal shocks. The study won't be presented until May at a computer security symposium. But its findings, conducted by a team from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the University of Massachusetts, and elsewhere, were reported in the Boston Globe this morning. William Maisel, MD, the study's lead author, emphasizes that it takes extreme technical skill to be able to hack an implanted device, and that no cases of this happening in real life have ever been reported. Therefore, he says, the benefits of the devices far outweigh the risks of being hacked. Nonetheless, the study suggests fixes such as alerts and encryption that could help prevent or deter attacks. And its authors believe that attacks could become more likely as longer-range wireless technologies come into use in medical devices. So the study omits certain information that would be useful to potential hackers. This sounds like something you'd see on an episode of Law & Order or House. Let's hope it remains in the realm of fantasy.

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