It's the real Heart Bleed: Medtronic locks out vulnerable pacemaker programmer kit

A pulse-racing tale of biotech bug fixing

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising health professionals to keep an eye on some of the equipment they use to monitor pacemakers and other heart implants.

The watchdog's alert this week comes after Irish medical device maker Medtronic said it will lock some of its equipment out of its software update service, meaning the hardware can't download and install new code from its servers.

That may seem counterintuitive, however, it turns out security vulnerabilities in its technology that it had previously thought could only be exploited locally could actually be exploited via its software update network. Malicious updates could be pushed to Medtronic devices by hackers intercepting and tampering with the equipment's internet connections – the machines would not verify they were actually downloading legit Medtronic firmware – and so the biz has cut them off.

To get the latest patches, the software will have to be installed by hand via USB by a Medtronic technician. Both the FDA and Medtronic said there is no immediate danger to any patients or doctors.

The security bugs are not present in the implants themselves, but rather in Medtronic "programmers," which doctors and medics connect to patients' implants during and after surgery, allowing them to check battery levels, monitor heart rhythms, and adjust any settings.


Fatal flaws in ten pacemakers make for Denial of Life attacks


Two models, the Carelink 2090 and the Carelink Encore 2091, could have been tampered with by an attacker modifying their firmware and, in turn, change how the programmers configured the implants. Medtronic said that now not only does it believe those vulnerabilities would be locally exploitable, but could also be targeted by an attacker who was able to remotely access the device.

"Although the programmer uses a virtual private network (VPN) to establish an internet connection with the Medtronic [software distribution network] SDN, the vulnerability identified with this connection is that the programmers do not verify that they are still connected to the VPN prior to downloading updates," the FDA explained.

"To address this cybersecurity vulnerability and improve patient safety, on October 5, 2018, the FDA approved Medtronic's update to the Medtronic network that will intentionally block the currently existing programmer from accessing the Medtronic SDN."

As a result, Medtronic said, it has cut both device models' access to the SDN, meaning the only way for hospitals and clinics to get firmware updates will be on-site by Medtronic techs. In the meantime, the FDA said the devices will continue to operate as normal and no immediate action needs to be taken.

In short, nobody's pacemaker is getting hacked any time soon, and doctors and patients have nothing to worry about, but updating the programmers is going to be a bit of a pain. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Venezuelan cardiologist charged with designing and selling ransomware
    If his surgery was as bad as his opsec, this chap has caused a lot of trouble

    The US Attorney’s Office has charged a 55-year-old cardiologist with creating and selling ransomware and profiting from revenue-share agreements with criminals who deployed his product.

    A complaint [PDF] filed on May 16th in the US District Court, Eastern District of New York, alleges that Moises Luis Zagala Gonzalez – aka “Nosophoros,” “Aesculapius” and “Nebuchadnezzar” – created a ransomware builder known as “Thanos”, and ransomware named “Jigsaw v. 2”.

    The self-taught coder and qualified cardiologist advertised the ransomware in dark corners of the web, then licensed it ransomware to crooks for either $500 or $800 a month. He also ran an affiliate network that offered the chance to run Thanos to build custom ransomware, in return for a share of profits.

    Continue reading
  • China reveals its top five sources of online fraud
    'Brushing' tops the list, as quantity of forbidden content continue to rise

    China’s Ministry of Public Security has revealed the five most prevalent types of fraud perpetrated online or by phone.

    The e-commerce scam known as “brushing” topped the list and accounted for around a third of all internet fraud activity in China. Brushing sees victims lured into making payment for goods that may not be delivered, or are only delivered after buyers are asked to perform several other online tasks that may include downloading dodgy apps and/or establishing e-commerce profiles. Victims can find themselves being asked to pay more than the original price for goods, or denied promised rebates.

    Brushing has also seen e-commerce providers send victims small items they never ordered, using profiles victims did not create or control. Dodgy vendors use that tactic to then write themselves glowing product reviews that increase their visibility on marketplace platforms.

    Continue reading
  • Oracle really does owe HPE $3b after Supreme Court snub
    Appeal petition as doomed as the Itanic chips at the heart of decade-long drama

    The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Oracle's appeal to overturn a ruling ordering the IT giant to pay $3 billion in damages for violating a decades-old contract agreement.

    In June 2011, back when HPE had not yet split from HP, the biz sued Oracle for refusing to add Itanium support to its database software. HP alleged Big Red had violated a contract agreement by not doing so, though Oracle claimed it explicitly refused requests to support Intel's Itanium processors at the time.

    A lengthy legal battle ensued. Oracle was ordered to cough up $3 billion in damages in a jury trial, and appealed the decision all the way to the highest judges in America. Now, the Supreme Court has declined its petition.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022