Hacking of Medical Devices: A New Worry for Patients, Disabled

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Aug 5, 2013   |   3:41PM   |   Washington, DC

Many people (until recently that included this writer) are not aware that medical devices like insulin pumps and pacemakers can be “hacked,” that is remotely controlled by someone that should not have access to control the device.

Such activity was made famous by Barnaby Jack, a New Zealand man who demonstrated to an audience that he could wirelessly hack an insulin pump from 300 feet away.  He was able to make the insulin pump deliver a lethal dose to a mannequin. He also demonstrated the ability to hack a pacemaker. Barnaby was set to remotely “shock” a pacemaker at a conference in Las Vegas. He passed away in San Francisco last month before he made that presentation. His death is still under investigation.

Barnaby Jack was a “good guy” using his hacker skills to expose risks in these critical medical devices. His work raises serious concerns about the ability to wirelessly control medical implants by “bad guys.” Clearly medical device makers need to address these flaws in implants for the safety of patients who need them.

Barnaby’s work got me thinking about transhumanism. In the case of pacemakers and insulin pumps, these devices are needed for medical reasons. But transhumanists want such devices for their otherwise healthy bodies. Neural implants, nanobots, cyber-brains, all integrated into our organic systems.

Why would someone voluntarily expose their healthy body to a cyber-attack? Is it naiveté that nothing bad will happen? Is it a trust in companies that their products will be “hack-proof?”

The truth is we can’t trust software companies to create hack-proof software. I doubt any of the enhancement devices that transhumanists dream about will be any different. I ask, “Why put your bodily integrating at such risk?” If you have a medical need that is one thing, but just to be augmented? I don’t get it.

Of course, Bryan Singer, has already addressed this scenario in a fictional format. Singer, creator of The Usual Suspects and the X-men movies, has made a digital series on transhumanism called H+.

In H+, a company provides an implant that connects the user’s nervous system to computers and the Internet. Everything we love about technology, social media, music, sports, all accessible directly to our brain without any other device. This implant may even replace doctors. It seems to be a technological triumph until someone creates a virus that remotely kills everyone with the implant.



Here are the first 6 episodes: