In the second season of HBO’s “Homeland,” a hacker attempts to assassinate the vice president by wirelessly hacking into the vice president’s pacemaker.
For former Vice President Dick Cheney, it was more than fiction. Cheney told CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday that the threat of hackers attacking him through his pacemaker was a legitimate threat. To avoid any possible assassination attempts, Cheney had the wireless capabilities of his pacemaker turned off.
Cheney had the defibrillator implanted in 2007 to help regulate his heartbeat. The U.S. version of “Homeland” (it was originally an Israeli show called "Hatufim" with the English title "Prisoners of War") didn’t go on the air until 2011, but Cheney said the plot of episode 22, “Broken Hearts,” was “credible” and an “accurate portrayal of what was possible.”
In 2012, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report urging the Food and Drug Administration to take these threats more seriously. The report noted how insulin pumps and defibrillators like Cheney’s are particularly vulnerable to several different forms of cyberattack.
The report specifically notes a test by the late hacker Barnaby Jack. In October 2011, Jack successfully hacked an insulin pump and made it dump a lethal dose of insulin without triggering the safety alert.
Experts say that the risk is very real, though there haven’t been any documented cases of successful attacks on mobile medical devices. Still, the FDA compiled a list of the risks from the GAO and had urged the producers of these medical devices and hospitals to increase security. The Center for Internet Security launched an initiative to develop solutions before a major event happens.
The former vice president also has a pump implanted into his heart and has had quadruple bypass surgery. Cheney has experienced five heart attacks since 1978.
For reference, here is a video of the scene from "Homeland."