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Security Risks Found in Sensors For Heart Devices, Consumer Electronics

A heart-shaped lock and its key.

Researchers have found a vulnerability in sensors used in medical and other devices, and anticipate the problem will only grow worse as medical sensors increasingly are worn, rather than implanted.

Credit: alonis/Flickr

An international research team demonstrated the ability to forge an erratic heartbeat with radio frequency electromagnetic waves, exposing a vulnerability in the sensors used in medical devices, Bluetooth microphones, and computers in Web-based phone calls.

"We found that these analog devices generally trust what they receive from their sensors, and that path is weak and could be exploited," says University of Michigan researcher Denis Foo Kune.

The researchers tested cardiac defibrillators and pacemakers in open air to determine which radio waveforms could cause interference. They then exposed the medical devices to those waveforms in a saline bath and a patient simulator. The researchers found that in both cases, an attacker would need to be within five centimeters to cause interference.

"The problem is that emerging medical sensors worn on the body, rather than implanted, could be more susceptible to this type of interference," says Michigan professor Kevin Fu.

The researchers propose that software could ping the cardiac tissue to determine whether the previous pulse came from the heart or from interference.

"This type of interference can be prevented with shields and filters like those seen today in military-grade equipment," notes Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology professor Yongdae Kim.

From University of Michigan News Service
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