Hacking Wireless Pacemakers

My good friend and colleague, Jack Vaughan, is always keeping an eye out for the slightly off-beat. When he finds something technical in nature, he forwards me the link.

A couple of days ago, he forwarded a link to a paper that described how to hack wireless pacemakers. The paper, titled “Pacemakers and Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators: Software Radio Attacks and Zero-Power Defenses,” describes how researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst first reverse engineered the protocols used to communicate with the pacemakers. They describe in detail how they used a software-defined radio to figure out the protocols.

Once they figured out how to communicate with the pacemakers, they devised a series of attacks and successfully pulled off a few of them. For example, they were able to disable a pacemakers “therapies,” or actions the pacemaker is programmed to take in response to cardiac events. This attack basically disabled the pacemaker.

The paper concludes by suggesting several different ways to improve pacemaker security. If you currently have a pacemaker that is programmed with a wireless interface, you may want to take a look at this paper. Even if you don’t, it’s an interesting read.


  1. My father had a pacemaker (1975) and it was as big as a hockey puck. You could easily feel it under his skin. It was placed in his chest just below his collar bone above his left breast. He passed away many years ago. I am sure people who currently have pacemakers will be thrilled to read this. I find that the technology is moving so fast that the engineers who developed this current generation of pacemakers probably didn’t take the time to consider the hazards that are looming for unsuspecting patients. I can’t imagine that it was too hard to reverse engineer the communication protocols. Most of this stuff has evolved from previous designs and are known to most in the business. Nothing is a secret for very long.

    Jim -.- —.. . .-.. .-.

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