465,000 Patients Need Software Updates for Their Hackable Pacemakers, FDA Says


Image: ChooChin/Shutterstock
A painful reminder that a future where the internet is in every device—even the most critical one—can be disastrous.

By Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai | MOTHERBOARD

Patching has long been one of the most tedious chores for those who want to keep their electronic devices secure or up to date. Sometimes, patches require a restart, disrupting your workflow. Sometimes, patches screw up the software, making it unusable. These are just some of the reasons why users normally dread patching.

Now, imagine if you had to patch the thing that keeps you alive.

That’s the situation almost 500,000 people who rely on buggy pacemakers face right now. On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration announced a recall of several vulnerable models of pacemakers made by Abbott, a global health company that used to be known as St. Jude Medical. The recall has the goal of reducing the risk of hackers taking control of the pacemakers, potentially, harming the patients.

Patients who have one of these devices will have to visit their doctors and update the pacemakers‘ firmware while the devices are in backup mode, according to an open letter sent by Abbott to doctors. The FDA estimates that around 465,000 patients have a vulnerable pacemaker that needs to be patched, according to the agency’s advisory.

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