Oh, My Heart!

Oh, for crying out loud.

The latest “hot” topic in the media is hacking of medical devices. It’s hardly a new story. It wasn’t new when we talked about it back in April: I cited reports about wifi-enabled, unsecured pacemakers dating back to 2008. So why is it suddenly all over the news?

Wait, before we go there, is it really all over the news? Well, the SF Chronicle ran a piece on the subject over the weekend which had previously appeared in Businessweek. Forbes has a short item on their website. And there are a number of others. It may not be at quite the same level of visibility as Perez Hilton’s feud with Lady Gaga, but it’s out there.

So, why is it out there? Two reasons: a hacked pacemaker played a key role in an episode of the TV show “Homeland”, and security researcher Barnaby Jack died last week just before he was going to demonstrate real-world hacks of pacemakers. Let me say that again. Last December, a character on a TV show was killed by someone hacking his pacemaker wirelessly. Late last month, a real person who had previously exposed security flaws in insulin pumps died of causes unknown. Said real person was going to show off his ability to short out pacemakers wirelessly (not control them, apparently, just destroy them).

It’s a pretty tenuous link, but it’s enough to hang a story or two on when things are slow. And the coincidence of Jack’s death just before his presentation is good for another couple of paragraphs in the story. Yes, I’m betting coincidence, unlike such noted venues of conspiracy theories as Twitter, Reddit, and ABC News.

ABC? Yup. Check out this lovely bit of unbiased (and well-edited) journalism:

Meanwhile, questions — and even conspiracy theories — are swirling around the Web regarding Jacks’ untimely death, with some even blaming the U.S. Government.

“This is an industry where a lot of money and danger is at stake,” ABC News consultant and former FBI Agent Brad Garrett said. “The work he was doing certainly put him at some risk,” ABC News consultant and former FBI Agent Brad Garrett said.

Of course, the San Francisco police, who have ruled out foul play must be in on the conspiracy, and the ongoing investigation is nothing but a transparent attempt to cover up the murder.  Fortunately, we can still get the occasional voice of reason. The Daily Dot quotes one participant in the Reddit discussion as pointing out that Jack had already given the same demonstration last year.

Not that I expect that little revelation to stop the conspiracy theorists. After all, how much credibility does some guy in Australia posting under the name “ThaFuck” have compared to a “former FBI Agent”? (That would be the same FBI that works with the NSA to conduct illegal “information gathering” on American citizens who have communicated with other citizens who have at some time communicated with still other citizens who have once communicated with people outside of the U.S.) Hey, wait a minute. Jack supposedly gave his presentation in Australia. That means he’s not only talked to foreigners, he’s actually been to a foreign country. He’s obviously a terrorist himself!

Ahem. The really frustrating thing here is that Jack’s good work is getting swept under the carpet for the general public. His exposures of the “implement first, release second, worry about security later” mentality that afflicts too much of the technology industry were a valuable service. (In fairness to the device manufacturers, I should note that some of the problems Jack and other researchers have found have been bugs rather than instances of “insecure by design”. Some.) Security flaws are dangerous in ways that go well beyond people’s possessions and financial information. In medicine and other fields, they can kill. We need more people like Barnaby Jack.

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