Designing pacemakers that cannot be hacked

Posted May 5, 2019 by Tim Sandle
As medical device technology becomes more sophisticated, and is able to capture important data of clinical significance, so the risk that implantable devices could be hacked by a someone wishing to steal data or cause harm rises.
Conventionable X-Ray of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.
Conventionable X-Ray of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.
Wikipedia (CC BY 3.0)
This process of hacking could be very serious if a hacker, for example, was able to stop a pacemaker and kill a person from distance. Even where the aim is less malicious, the value to medical data is soaring and many manufacturers of medical devices wish to collect data in order to seek improvements or even to analyse and sell on. This makes the data of commercial value and something someone else may wish to steal.
So how can medical devices be protected from nefarious attacks? Purdue University technologists have been working on ways to enhance the security on the "Internet of body." This is through devising technology to support the function of devices that locks the communication signals within the human body itself.
According to lead scientist Shreyas Sen: “"We're connecting more and more devices to the human body network, from smart watches and fitness trackers to head-mounted virtual reality displays.”
He adds that: “The challenge has not only been keeping this communication within the body so that no one can intercept it, but also getting higher bandwidth and less battery consumption.”
The way this challenge has been addressed is described in the following video:
The secure communication network was achieved by ensuring that communication paths do not go beyond a centimeter off the skin and by using 100 times less energy than traditional Bluetooth communication (which is used by conventional medical devices). The signals operate in the electro-quasistatic range, which is much lower on the electromagnetic spectrum and resistant to hacking using current technology.
It is hoped that the technology provides the foundation for advent of closed-loop bioelectronic medicine, which would hearld in a new generation of more secure and lower power consuming medical devices.
The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports, with the research paper headed “Enabling Covert Body Area Network using Electro-Quasistatic Human Body Communication.”