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Medical Devices Remain Vulnerable to Hacking

Jason Reese


  • Researchers from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology have reported that the problem of medical devices being too easy to hack has remained a growing issue for more than a decade.
  • Many new heart devices use software or wireless communications and may be most vulnerable to hacker attacks that could cause life-threatening malfunctions or medical errors.
  • The research cardiologists also said that added stress from worrying about having a device ‘med-jacked’ will more than likely increase your risk for a heart attack more than the risk itself though.
  • To date, there have been no reports of malicious hacking or malware attacks affecting cardiac devices.

Evolving Technologies Could Make Medical Devices Easy Targets for Hacking

The increasing popularity of common medical devices using software and wireless communications has created a rising risk that hackers might reprogram devices to make them work improperly, interrupt the relay of information needed for doctors to monitor patients remotely, or prematurely drain the batteries. Although most of these risks remain theoretical, the opportunity for someone to block or alter a medical device performance to harm a patient is something manufacturers need to start monitoring.

Cardiologists came together and stated a similar conclusion in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, noting concerns about implanted cardiac devices and its “vulnerability of remote monitoring and the potential for communications to be interrupted or delayed or for cybersecurity breaches to lead to malfunctions and battery drainage.”

For example, these researchers say pacemakers, a device made to help the heart pump the right way, might result in a sudden irregular heart rhythm that could be fatal if hacked. Defibrillators that are implanted to prevent deaths from cardiac arrest are also vulnerable to hacking and could deliver unnecessary shocks to the heart or fail to respond with needed shocks.

In August 2017, nearly half a million pacemakers were recalled by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to “fears that their lax cybersecurity could be hacked to run the batteries down or even alter the patient’s heartbeat.”

Patient Privacy Data Could Be Modified and Cause Medical Errors

Other clinicians and health care administrators are concerned about patient privacy over the potential for hackers to manipulate devices to intentionally harm patients. If technology is breached and the hack goes undetected, it can have a fatal impact on the patient record and lead to unnecessary procedures or wrong medication prescriptions and errors.

Most of the researchers argued that the technology used in these devices have been a huge step forward in providing better care to cardiac patients, but doctors should discuss the risk of implanted medical devices and the hacking risks with patients and focus on the numerous health benefits of connected devices.

The FDA has several guidelines in place for the security of medical devices, along with several legislative proposals in Congress but with the ongoing changes in technological advances, anything could happen, and our Indiana medical device lawyers want to keep developers monitoring the environment for new vulnerabilities and create quick responses, so patients will be safe.

If you feel your medical device is defective or has been hacked, you should seek medical attention immediately and contact one of our Indiana medical device lawyers.

Experienced Medical Device and Product Liability Lawyers

Defective product cases are complex and can place consumers in a vulnerable position. Our experienced defective drug and medical devices, product liability, and medical malpractice attorneys at Wagner Reese can help restore the balance of power, providing you the legal support and advice you need so that you can focus on your own health and healing.

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