On Your Side Alert: Pacemakers can be hacked

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It is a topic that has cyber experts talking and one you may have seen on TV. We're talking about crooks hacking into pacemakers. Cyber Experts say hospitals would be perfect targets. You could be sitting in a waiting room and the unthinkable could happen!

DJ Rivera, with AVM Technology, says the threat could send you straight to the ER or worse. "They can basically kill someone or they can kill many people. All you need is an antenna that can reach the frequency and software that can read the packets, that are transferred to the frequency, that is what you call a Sniffer," He explains.

Rivera says the cyber world has been aware of this possibility for several years. "If you are within 30 feet, any pacemaker that is around, can say here I am, and not only do they say here I am, they also send you their serial number and their model number," Rivera says.

The research was revealed and reportedly demonstrated at a security conference in Australia. "It is kind of like a dirty little secret," he told us.  For legal reasons, the expert that demonstrated the threat, never revealed the name of the pacemaker manufacturer.

Our cyber expert says it appears, this vulnerability is only true for one pacemaker manufacturer but again, just which one is not certain. "You just don't know. The researcher that came out with this, indicated that he has been in touch with the manufacturer and that they were taking measures," Rivera says.

The flaw is with the programming of wireless transmitters used to give instructions to pacemakers. "You can turn it off, send sporadic shocks to the person; so basically, you can do just about anything with it," Rivera explained.

We reached out the medical community about this threat. Dr. Abram Mozes is a Cardiologist with Cardiology Associates of Richmond. "Not having seen a clinical case where somebody was successfully able to hack a device, I was a little bit less concerned," he tells us. Dr. Mozes says hospitals are not going into panic mode but are keeping an eye on the situation. He stresses, patients with the device should not be overly alarmed. He's convinced pacemakers are safe. "I think there is an opportunity for the scientific community to delve in the possibility of these exploits being used to harm patients but I think the reality is, the possibility of such an attack is very, very farfetched." he explained.

Due to the secrecy surrounding the manufacturer, there are a lot of unanswered questions. In fact, the problem could already be fixed. "I think people should always be cautions," Rivera says. For now, the best advice, if you notice something wrong with your pacemaker, contact a doctor immediately.

Cyber experts say this threat doesn't just stop with pacemakers, they say anything that is wireless and that can be controlled by a computer, can be hacked.

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