Spread the Fear

In the absence of anything really substantive and personal to write about this week, I’ll spend my time writing about an issue that isn’t really personal and, I don’t think, really very substantive. In fact — and feel free to disagree with me — it’s probably not a big deal at all; I’ll go so far as to say it’s a story only because it’s a story.


I’m referring to the insulin pump hack issue that’s been popping up in news stories and on diabetes blogs the past few weeks. Jerome Radcliffe, a person with diabetes — who also happens to write a blog about diabetes — “out of fear for his own safety” (according to the CBS News story), “wanted to see if he could hack into these wireless medical devices.”

He did. And he succeeded.

I first read about this a month or so ago when Kerri at Six Until Me posted this interview with Jerome. My interest was piqued, but it wasn’t until I saw the story on several news feeds that I realized it was a topic with some purchase.

Jerome’s successful wireless infiltration into the inner sanctum of an insulin pump means that people like me who wear insulin pumps or other electronic medical devices that have some type of control from a remote device… well, we’re now aware that the potential exists for someone to do all sorts of bad things to us from across the room, or across the street, or from wherever, with just their little handheld remote. (Imagine all of the thrillers you’ve sat through at the theater with the key bad guy with the remote detonator, thumb ready to depress the button).

Scary, right?

Except — as most of the news reports also state — it’s really quite a low-level threat, something near the bottom of the beige threat-level color code chart. What are the chances my pump would ever be hacked? Maybe if I worked in the tech sector with super-smart people whom I’d somehow managed to tick off, and who had evil streaks and who wanted to find a way to do away with me. Sure. But otherwise, really? Nah.

I did joke with my wife that someone armed with this information strolling through a diabetes clinic could wreak havoc. She said I might not want to write that, because some people wouldn’t find it amusing. I’m not really laughing, either. It’s just that I don’t see us as prime targets for terrorism. What about you? Have you heard about this and given much thought to it, or did you just kind of say “eh” and move on to other, more pressing diabetes concerns, such as what’s your next meal bolus going to be?

I want to point out that I do applaud Radcliffe for exposing this risk. I’m glad that the companies who manufacture electronic medical devices, even though I’m sure they were aware of it before, are now publicly being taken to task for the loopholes in the security of their devices.

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  • jim snell


    What was not explained carefully is that there are two asoects to this – hacking and jamming.

    Jamming results from equipemnt with stronger signals blocking my dexcom receiver and rf link trasmitter.

    Unfortunately, frequencies picked and encoding techniques can cause receiver unit to be stalled sisplaying last value till out of range with interfering signal.

    Hacking should be able to be blocked and stopped.

    Interference is a much more difficult fracas. I always found my unit struggling most at home fighting interference from servers and cameras with RF links. In my car and drving up back side of sierras montains in california, equipment works flawlessly without hickup.

    I am not interested in living in my car all the time.

    As I am now retired and do not have access to the spectrum analyzers with antenna to see who the interfering piece of crap is.

    At home, I find myself walking around and hiding behind refrigerators/metal cabinets to get link back up.

    So, while I appreciate your thoughts, FCC band allocation of frequencies and space between them can if not sufficient cause embarrasing havoc.

    In addition, many designers believe in the Star ship enterprise attitude with no warning lights and no messages warning user ( computer knows best)that some piece of crap is jamming them and readings invalid on display – ie no valid updates for last hour.

    Cheers and thank you.