"You wake up every morning with a smile on your face because you've got a new day you never expected to have. And there's a sense, well, of wonderment. Nothing short of magical," Cheney said.
But back to that potentially hacked defibrillator. SPOILER ALERT: Fans of the Showtime series "Homeland" might find it a familiar scenario. The vice president in that series died after terrorists hacked his heart pacemaker and instructed it to emit a lethal jolt of electricity.
Hacking a defibrillator may sound improbable, but researchers have demonstrated that it is possible. Tadayoshi Kohno, associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, and colleagues showed in a 2008 study that they could use their own hardware to communicate with an implantable cardioverter de?brillator.
"We wanted to get ahead of any potential threat," Kohno said. "We knew that medical devices were advancing, and we wanted to get the medical device community focused on understanding the risks, so that future medical devices with more wireless communication capabilities, and so on, were adequately secured."
It wasn't easy, Kohno said, but by studying the signals that hospital equipment would normally send to the device, researchers were able to figure out how to generate their own signals to communicate with it. From a few centimeters away from the device, they could change the defibrillator's settings and turn its therapies on and off, Kohno said. The device was the current model at the time, but now represents an older generation of such devices.
The FDA considers the security of medical devices to be an important issue, Kohno said, and the medical community is working on figuring out how to improve them. In the meantime, though, the risk for most people is incredibly low, Kohno said.
"If I had any medical reason to get an implantable defibrillator or a pacemaker, I would have no hesitation in doing so, even the one that we studied," Kohno said. "These are lifesaving devices and truly the benefits outweigh the risks."
The Federal Trade Commission is holding a workshop on November 19 to discuss privacy and security issues that arise from the increased connectivity of devices with each other and with people -- the so-called "Internet of Things" -- including in the health arena.