Wow of the Week: Assassination by medical device hack fears led Dick Cheney to take action

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It was a plot twist on Homeland and a blind spot identified by researchers in a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2010. It was also real source of anxiety for former vice president Dick Cheney: Death by medical device hack.

As part of the promotion campaign for his new book, Heart, he told 60 Minutes that he saw it as a credible threat. Cheney, who has had heart disease, has had several heart surgeries and had an implanted defibrillator in 2007. The possibility that terrorists could hack his Medtronic defibrillator led to so much concern that his doctor, cardiologist Jonathan Reiner, took action. He had the device’s wireless function disabled so a terrorist couldn’t send his heart a fatal shock.

He talked about the surreal experience of watching Showtime’s program about CIA operatives called Homeland which used a killer medical device hack as a plot twist in an episode.


“I was aware of the danger…that existed…I found it credible,” he responds to Dr. Sanjay Gupta when asked what went through his mind. “I know from the experience we had and the necessity for adjusting my own device, that it was an accurate portrayal of what was possible,” says Cheney.

It all seems a bit surreal, but then remote wireless monitoring is set to grow rapidly. The Affordable Care Act is fueling a drive to reduce hospitalization costs and make greater use of remote monitoring to spot any early warning signs of worsening condition. Wireless medical devices will only increase. Some researchers are working on potential safeguards.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning earlier this year that medical device manufacturers safeguard their devices against a cybersecurity threats. The Center for Internet Security is working on a set of guidelines for medical devices, starting with insulin pumps. It’s working with hospitals and medical device manufacturers and is expected to issue guidelines by the end of the year.

[Photo credit: Data security from BigStock Photo]

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Stephanie Baum

By Stephanie Baum

Stephanie Baum is the East Coast Innovation Reporter for She enjoys covering healthcare startups across health IT, drug development and medical devices and innovations deployed to improve medical care. She graduated from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania and has worked across radio, print and video. She's written for The Christian Science Monitor, Dow Jones & Co. and United Business Media.
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