The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a warning last week recalling certain Medtronic MiniMed insulin pumps over concerns that the device may be vulnerable to cyber attacks. The warning comes after researchers found that an attacker with adjacent access was able to wirelessly communicate with the device and alter the pump settings, either providing or restricting insulin to a patient. These insulin pumps are meant to communicate wirelessly with other medical devices such as blood glucose meters, glucose sensor transmitters, and CareLink USB devices. The models specifically impacted are the Medtronic MiniMed insulin pumps, the MiniMed 508 insulin pump, and the MiniMed Paradigm series which are collectively used by approximately 4,000 patients in the U.S., according to Medtronic. 

    This vulnerability is described by CVE2019-10964 and has been assigned a score of 7.1 out of 10, designating it as a high severity vulnerability. The core of the vulnerability revolves around improper access control when associating with other devices. The researchers state that the wireless RF communication protocol doesn’t properly implement authentication or authorization, two important factors that mediate network access. In computer security, authentication refers to the mechanism by which a device is proven to be a legitimate user and authorization refers to the resources that the device has access to. The researchers found that an attacker with sufficient access can inject, replay, alter, or interpret data from the vulnerable insulin pumps. Medtronic is urging patients affected by this vulnerability to talk to their healthcare provider about exchanging their insulin pump for a newer model with appropriate security measures.

    While this exploit has not been seen in the real world and there are no known reports of patient harm resulting from it, there are precautions that users of wirelessly connected medical equipment can take to protect themselves. Ensuring that no one tampers with the medical device or other devices connected to it, refrain from sharing the serial number, noticing any alarms or alerts made by the device, and immediately canceling any unintended actions that are made by the medical device are all good steps to take. While it is always important for companies to implement proper security protocols in their devices, it’s even more important when there is the potential for serious harm to an end user, such as in the medical field. As more of these important systems become connected, the need for good security implementation becomes more and more important.