Can pacemakers be hacked? ‘CBI’ stirs debate | #government | #hacking | #cyberattack

When actor Mammootty came on the screen with the signature vermillion mark on his forehead, thick moustache and hands folded behind him, few ‘ÇBI’ fans would have expected him to spur a medical debate.  A crucial scene in CBI 5 – The Brain, showing a pacemaker being hacked, has created quite an e-stir, with many, including author N S Madhavan, tweeting about it. 

Scriptwriter S N Swamy, however, says he wrote the scenes after a lot of research verifying the authenticity of the hacking procedure. “We prepared the script for the film after practically testing this procedure. The working of the hacking procedure is scientifically specific. We did the script after discussing it with many technical experts. One could even get the details of such scientific techniques from Google searches (sic),” he said. 

Interestingly, around the same time came Anoop Memon’s thriller 21 Grams, directed by debutante Bibin Krishna. This one, too, showed pacemaker hacking as a modus operandi for murder. A techie in the advanced medical research sector for over a decade, Bibin says he took some creative liberty while writing about pacemaker hacking.

“As these devices can be connected to the internet, there is a possibility of hacking. In other countries, medical devices go through high cybersecurity checks, making it difficult to hack. In 21 Grams the pacemaker hacking was a five-minute-long scene. The deed is done by a character in the medical field. Thus, I have ensured the logic of the scene, too,” he says. 

Experts brush aside concerns. “The device and the parameters are evaluated by the doctor through routine check-ups. The batteries are also checked. It is impossible to mess with it and kill someone, and it’s not yet proven,” says Dr Praveen S V, consultant cardiologist KIMSHEALTH, Thiruvananthapuram.  “There is no room for panic or fears regarding pacemaker hacking.” 

However, some media reports claimed former US vice-president Dick Cheney had once asked doctors to replace his heart defibrillator with a new device without Wi-Fi capability, fearing terrorist attacks. Dr Vinod Thomas, chief cardiologist at Renai Medicity says, “Though remote monitoring is possible, it cannot be controlled. However, pacemakers are susceptible to hacking and somebody very near to the patient can do so with assistive devices.”

Adarsh V K , a technology observer, says the hacking scenes were “absurd”, and creates “technology phobia”. A cyber security expert, who did not want to be named, says: “For certain devices, the government has kept standards for the electromagnetic emissions. If these emissions exceed the standards, it can lead to malfunction. We cannot conclude that hacking a pacemaker is impossible.”

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