FDA: Pacemakers vulnerable to hacks

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Nearly half a million pacemakers have been recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to fears that their lax cybersecurity could be hacked to run the batteries down or even alter the patient's heartbeat.

"This access could be used to modify programming commands to the implanted pacemaker, which could result in patient harm from rapid battery depletion or administration of inappropriate pacing", the recall said.

Last year, the USA government launched a probe into claims the devices were vulnerable to potentially life-threatening hacks that could cause implanted devices to pace at potentially risky rates or cause them to fail by draining their batteries.

This is to reduce the risk of patient harm due to potential exploitation of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

The pacemakers are to be uploaded with new secure software after the FDA discovered cybersecurity vulnerabilities that would allow a hacker to take over the medical device that controls the heart. Once completed, it will mean only devices with the correct authorisation will be able to communicate with the pacemakers.

It was the second round of updates for the heart implants that Abbott has announced since buying medical device maker St. Jude Medical earlier this year.

"All industries need to be constantly vigilant against unauthorized access".

Abbott says the risk of hacking is extremely low; the Department of Homeland Security said that compromising the security of these devices would require a highly complex set of circumstances. "This isn't a static process, which is why we're working with others in the healthcare sector to ensure we're proactively addressing common topics to further advance the security of devices and systems", said Robert Ford, the executive vice president of medical devices at Abbott.

The FDA recommends that patients talk to their doctors during their next regularly scheduled visit to determine if they need the update.

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