Insulin pump maker ignores diabetic's hack warnings
Medtronic device susceptible to wireless tampering
The maker of an insulin pump that's susceptible to wireless hacking was identified for the first time on Thursday by a diabetic researcher who said the company repeatedly ignored his warnings.
A commercially available pump made by Medtronic, the world's biggest medical device manufacturer, is vulnerable to attacks that allow strangers to increase, decrease, or stop the flow of insulin being administered, the Associated Press reported. The article went on to say that hacker Jay Radcliffe outted the Minneapolis-based company after “he was ignored in repeated attempts to alert the company to the defects.”
He has recently started relying on a new pump model made by Johnson & Johnson to treat his diabetic condition, according to The Minneapolis Star Tribune.
A Medtronic spokeswoman declined to discuss the interactions her company had with Radcliffe. She said a company representative attended a presentation Radcliffe gave earlier this month at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas.
During his talk, Radcliffe repeatedly declined to name the model or manufacturer in hopes he could first brief Medtronic representatives privately. The Department of Homeland Security, which examined his findings, eventually helped introduce him to someone inside the company, but even then his emails and calls went unanswered, the AP said.
The research into the vulnerability of wireless insulin pumps and other medical devices recently attracted the attention of two US lawmakers. In a letter drafted last week, they called on the Government Accountability Office to ensure that the devices are safe and will not interfere with other medical equipment.
Radcliffe also criticized Medtronic for a statement issued after his presentation which said that pump users could protect themselves against his attack by turning off the device's wireless function. The particular wireless ability he exploited can't be switched off, the AP said.
That's in addition to the zinger here in which Medtronic recently said: “To our knowledge, there has never been a single reported incident outside of controlled laboratory experiments in more than 30 years of device telemetry use, which includes millions of devices worldwide.”
The Medtronic spokeswoman didn't address Radcliffe's claims directly, but said the “risk of deliberate, malicious or unauthorized manipulation of our insulin pumps is extremely low.” Maybe, but it's telling that a diabetic hacker thinks otherwise. ®
It is strange-but-true that the systems where safety is most important can often be the ones that are least carefully designed. I thoroughly recommend reading up on the "Therac-25", a radiotherapy machine that would periodically zap patients with doses tens or hundreds of times stronger than intended. Even after a few deaths, the manufacturer was claiming that the software was implemented in such a way that it could not possibly fail. The complacent comments in the current story, where the manufacturer seems more concerned to re-assure their shareholders about their product than to ensure the safety of their patients, seems rather similar.
Start at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25 and follow the links.
Speaking as a diabetic myself, I can tell you that it would only take a high level of insulin being injected to cause blood sugards to drop to dangerous levels.
This, in turn, manifests itself in a way that makes the diabetic appear to be drunk, rapidly followed by a diabetic coma, and potentially death if not treated rapidly.
Most diabetics whose blood sugars drop to these low levels are unaware, and frequently unable to do anything about it until it's too late to do so.
In a nutshell - this hack could kill, plain and simple.
@OMG, this is bad news
Bad example, as I suspect most would notice someone physically entering their body to tamper with the unit.
Maybe "Ford denies FM radio can cause steering lock up" would be more appropriate?
Hmm, now what was the story about the Ford Pinto again....