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Insulin pump hack delivers fatal dosage over the air

Sugar Blues, James Bond style

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Insecure by design

The pumps use no encryption to conceal the content of their transmissions, and a vulnerability allowed Jack to discover the device's serial number. His software also overrides restrictions that normally prevent the pump from receiving wireless commands to increase dosages. Under normal conditions, the pumps issue a vibration or loud tone when dispensing a dosage, but Barnaby's attack disables the warning mechanism.

"We're talking about code that was developed approximately 10 years ago, so there really wasn't security on the forefront of these embedded devices," Jack said. "To be honest, they weren't expecting people to rip them open and see what goes on under the hood."

Jack said one attack scenario would be to use the hack to target an individual known to use a vulnerable device. Without close monitoring, the victim would have little way of knowing the dosage had been altered, and the attack could be carried out by anyone within a few hundred feet.

A Medtronic spokeswoman declined to say how many pumps are susceptible to the attack. Jack said his hack works on pumps with model numbers of 712 and higher. The spokeswoman declined to say when those pumps were first marketed, but websites such as this one list the manufacture date as 2006.

Jack said his research over the past few years has increasingly focused on the tiny computers included in the millions of devices used every day to treat medical conditions, dispense cash, and perform other vital functions.

"I've taken an interest in embedded devices because they're used for critical applications," he explained. "When you compromise these types of devices, there's a very real world effect." ®

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