Pacemakers and defibrillators may be hackable

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As more and more heart devices leverage software or wireless communication connectivity — features that help the devices work more smoothly or update automatically — the devices face an increased risk of falling victim to a cyberattack, which could be life-threatening for patients that need  them, according to Reuters.

A paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology notes these internet-connected medical devices could potentially be vulnerable to hackers who might reprogram them to work improperly, interrupt information transmissions or permanently empty their batteries.

However, there hasn't been any documented instances of a hack on a cardiac device in a real patient. "Most of these are theoretical risks," the paper's senior author Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy, MD, told Reuters. "Someone actually blocking or altering the performance of medical devices to harm a patient is only limited to TV series and movies at this point."

U.S. regulators have long warned device manufacturers to the risks of cyberattacks. For pacemakers, the concern is that a hack could produce sudden irregular heart rhythms which could be deadly. Implanted defibrillators could deliver unnecessary shocks or fail to respond when shocks are needed.

Even though patients benefit from these more-advanced technologies that allow for remote care delivery, the authors write the only way to reduce the risk of hacking is to use devices that don't allow remote software updates or wireless communications.

More articles on cybersecurity:
Siemens, IBM join 6 other tech companies to launch cybersecurity charter
The most common type of data breach in hospitals? Paper records, study suggests
HHS OCR: 10 steps hospitals must take to avoid 'cyber extortion'

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