Thousands of people rely on pacemakers to help them live normal lives. These devices monitor a patient’s heartbeat and administer small electrical shocks when an irregular beat is detected. While most patients know that they need to avoid certain devices, such as microwaves, a new study found that there may be cause for more concern.
According to researchers at the University of Michigan, University of South Carolina, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, University of Minnesota, University of Massachusetts and Harvard Medical School, found that hackers could actually disrupt a pacemaker by accessing the sensors.
“Security is often an arms race with adversaries,” said Wenyuan Xu, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of South Carolina. “As researchers, it’s our responsibility to always challenge the common practice and find defenses for vulnerabilities that could be exploited before unfortunate incidents happen. We hope our research findings can help to enhance the security of sensing systems that will emerge for years to come.”
The good news is, no one has experienced any problems with their pacemakers and to date, no hacking attempts have been reported. However, it is still a good idea for patients to discuss any concerns they might have with their doctors and continue to avoid potential vulnerabilities.
“People with pacemakers and defibrillators can remain confident in the safety and effectiveness of their implants,” said Kevin Fu, U-M associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science. “Patients already protect themselves from interference by keeping transmitters like phones away from their implants. The problem is that emerging medical sensors worn on the body, rather than implanted, could be more susceptible to this type of interference.”
For engineers, this news brings up a challenge to design pacemaker sensors, both implantable and those worn on the body, that will be able to withstand any outside interference. Medical engineering is a booming business and for new graduates who want to make a difference, this is an ideal field to enter.
More testing is needed to determine whether or not this is an actual risk for heart patients, but it is clear that more innovation is necessary to help protect patient safety.
Do you have a question about finding a career in the exciting field of medical engineering? Ask the experts at Solopoint for help today!