Researchers Build App That Kills To Highlight Insulin Pump Exploit

from the remote-fatality dept

By now the half-baked security in most internet of things (IOT) devices has become a bit of a running joke, leading to amusing Twitter accounts like Internet of Shit that highlight the sordid depth of this particular apathy rabbit hole. And while refrigerators leaking your gmail credentials and tea kettles that expose your home networks are entertaining in their own way, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the same half-assed security in the IOT space also exists on most home routers, your car, your pacemaker, and countless other essential devices and services your life may depend on.

Case in point: just about two years ago, security researchers discovered some major vulnerabilities Medtronic's popular MiniMed and MiniMed Paradigm insulin pumps. At a talk last year, they highlighted how a hacker could trigger the pumps to either withhold insulin doses, or deliver a lethal dose of insulin remotely. But while Medtronic and the FDA warned customers about the vulnerability and issued a recall over time, security researchers Billy Rios and Jonathan Butts found that initially, nobody was doing much to actually fix or replace the existing devices.

So Rios and Butts got creative in attempting to convey the scope and simplicity of the threat: they built an app that could use the pumps to kill a theoretical patient:

"We’ve essentially just created a universal remote for every one of these insulin pumps in the world," Rios says. "I don’t know why Medtronic waits for researchers to create an app that could hurt or kill someone before they actually start to take this seriously. Nothing has changed between when we gave our Black Hat talk and three weeks ago."

To target a specific insulin pump, a hacker would need to know the proper serial number of the device they're targeting. But the app simplifies this process by quickly running through all potential serial numbers until it hits the correct one. The gambit seems to have worked: a week after the team demonstrated its proof of concept app to FDA officials in mid-June of this year, Medtronic announced a voluntary recall program. Years after Medtronic first learned about the flaws in these devices, there's now a structure in place that allows patients to use the devices if they want, and replace them for free if they don't.

That said, the researchers are still quick to point out that this kind of dysfunction (offering potentially fatally compromised products but having no avenue to correct them) is fairly common in the medical sector:

"...the climate for medical device vulnerability disclosures is still clearly fraught if researchers feel that they need to take extreme, and even potentially dangerous, steps like developing a killer app to spur action.

"If you think about it, we shouldn't be telling patients, 'hey, you know what, if you want to you could turn on this feature and get killed by a random person.' That makes no sense," QED Security Solutions' Rios says. "There should be some risk acceptance; this is a medical device. But an insecure feature like that just needs to be gone, and they had no mechanism to remove it."

And of course that's not just a problem in the medical sector, but most internet-connected tech sectors. As security researcher Bruce Schneier often points out, it's part of a cycle of dysfunction where the consumer and the manufacturer of a flawed product have already moved on to the next big purchase, often leaving compromised products, and users, in a lurch. And more often than not, when researchers are forced to get creative to highlight the importance of a particular flaw, the companies in question enjoy shooting the messenger.

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Filed Under: insulin pump, iot, minimed, minimed paradigm, security
Companies: medtronic


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  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), 22 Jul 2019 @ 11:36am

    Re: SOMEtimes connectivity is a good thing for patients

    It should not accept remote input. At the very best from a device at close proximity. Anything connected may be breached at some point because there are many points of possible failure. Ie: MITM attacks.


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