Jamming signals to stop hackers from lethal pacemaker attacks

While there have been no publicly known murder by hacking insulin pumps or pacemakers cases, the lethal hack and wireless attack has been demonstrated by researchers. Most folks do not want to have surgery to replace a functioning medical implant with a replacement device even if it might be less vulnerable to "passive eavesdropping" and to attackers sending unauthorized radio commands which could reprogram the implantable medical device . . . or as in a DDoS attack to drain the pacemaker battery so boom, victim falls over dead via untraceable assassination.

MIT and University of Massachusetts researchers have developed an anti-hacking jamming device that addresses communication security to protect implantable medical devices. The wearable "shield" device can emit a jamming signal when an active attacker establishes an unauthorized wireless link between a pacemaker and a remote terminal.

Researchers presented "They Can Hear Your Heartbeats: Non-Invasive Security for Implantable Medical Devices" [PDF] at the SIGCOMM communications conference. If all broadcasting radio "noise" on the implant frequency is blocked by a jamming device, it prevents the doctor as well as an attacker from receiving the data signals. The researchers created "the shield" prototype so doctors could still access the data but passive eavesdroppers and active attackers sending radio commands could not.

The innovation radio design device does not jam all signals, but the paper states that a "sophisticated adversary" could "transmit at 100 times the shield's power" and the shield's jamming broadcast would still block communications until the attacker was within five meters of the victim's implant.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also taken an interest in protecting wireless enabled medical devices. The committee sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office, asking GAO to "conduct a review of the FCC's actions in regard to wireless medical devices."

Another electronic medical technology leap forward came when University of Illinois researchers presented Electronic Skin which could replace bulky electrodes. It was described on New Idea as:

It is hair-thin, constructed with sensors, antenna, LED and other parts and powered by built-in solar batteries to monitor a person's heartbeat, brain activity, muscle contractions and so on. If you put it besides your throat, the device can even "hear" your words so as to accomplish certain tasks. It can be easily applied to anything, without need for glue. When such amazing things used in the medical field, we bet we humans can benefit more from the advanced technology.
electronic-skin.jpg

Image Credit: John Rogers, University of Illinois

People who find this mixture of medical communication and technology somewhat more creepy than cool may wish to invest in Faraday Cage apparel?

People who find it fascinating may like Ohio State University researchers' idea to embed high-powered antennas into clothing in order to create the next generation of communication systems. Research Associate Professor Chi-Chih Chen said, "Our primary goal is to improve communications reliability and the mobility of the soldiers, but the same technology could work for police officers, fire fighters, astronauts - anybody who needs to keep their hands free for important work." It is believed that such an antenna communication system sewn into a shirt or vest could also aid the elderly or disabled who might need help in case of an emergency.

While the idea is not a new one, Ohio State has built upon previous research to come up with a new breed of communications system that works somewhat like smartphone internal antennas being sewn into clothes. OSU Research News reported, the person with an embedded antenna in his or her clothing would be able to "send and receive signals in all directs, even through walls and inside a building" without needing to carry an additional external antenna.

A prototype enhanced antenna was etched into thin layers of brass on plastic film, called FR-4, and was then sewn into a vest in four places, the chest, back and both shoulders. A metal box that is slightly smaller than a credit card was worn on a belt and acted as a computer controller. As the controller sensed body movements, it would switch between the four embedded antennas to "activate the one with the best performance given the body's position."

Chen estimates the cost at about $200 per person at first, until mass production would drop the cost to implement functional antennas in clothing people would actually want to wear. Other engineers are working on printing antennas directing onto clothing or embroidering antennas into clothing with metallic threads. It's a bit like super-small smartphone communication mixed with locational tracking on steroids.

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