Can medical devices malfunction due to cyber attack?

Fans of the television series “Homeland” may recall that a homicide was perpetrated against one of the characters by disabling his pacemaker. It turns out that this plot twist may have some basis in reality.

Specifically, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued a notice about infusion pumps that are used to deliver fluids into patients in hospitals all across America. The product, manufactured by a company called Hospira, relies on computer technology to deliver a programmable amount of fluids into a patient. According to the FDA, however, that program may be susceptible to cyber attack. Consequently, the FDA is encouraging medical facilities to discontinue usage. 

Although no consumer wants a product to malfunction or fail to meet up to the manufacturer’s specifications, certain product defects may have more serious liability considerations. Certainly, medical devices that send and/or receive information via a wireless connection should be safe from cyber attack. Yet there are many other scenarios where a dangerous or defective product may cause injuries to a consumer.

For example, a defective product in a motor vehicle can lead to serious accidents. There are scenarios where a product malfunction may be the cause of an accident, such as a tire blowout or a gas tank disruption while traveling at high speeds on a heavily trafficked highway. Products may also simply fail to perform according to their expectations, such as defective seatbelts or vehicles that do not meet their specified crashworthiness. In fact, that type of product defect may seem particularly alarming because it may go unnoticed until it is too late, when consumers have suffered injuries due to the product’s failure to perform effectively. With the help of a product liability lawyer, an injured consumer can file a civil lawsuit seeking to hold the manufacturer accountable. That lawsuit may also help protect other consumers.

Source: Popular Science, “FDA Issues Warning About Hackable Medical Devices,” Alexandra Ossola, Aug. 5, 2015


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