The famous American television series Homeland, by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, broadcasted an episode in which the Afghan terrorist group al-Qaeda hacks into the pacemaker of the U.S. vice president . They do this by using the stolen serial number of the pacemaker and a laptop, to then give the pacemaker the order to give electrical pulses, resulting in the vice president dying of a heart attack.
The episode caused a great commotion in America, where the question arose as to what extent this is possible in real life ?
Medical implants as a new treatment for chronic diseases
Within medical care, there is an increase in sophisticated technologies used for controlling certain diseases. Nowadays, diseases are not only treated with medication, but also with medical implants, i.e., devices that are inserted into the body.
Medical implants have been around for decades, but only recently are they also wirelessly accessible. These new types of medical implants are controllable through remote management. Such medical implants are abbreviated in the rest of the thesis as RCMI’s (remotely controllable medical implants). This research focuses on three kinds of RCMI’s: the insulin pump, the pacemaker, and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD). The reason for this choice is that these three types of implants have gotten the most attention regarding the risks of hacking.
See the headings ‘The insulin pump’ and ‘Medical implants for cardiac arrhythmias’ in this introduction for a brief outline of the applications of these RCMI’s.