Abbott issues patch for vulnerable heart devices

pharmafile | August 31, 2017 | News story | Medical Communications, Sales and Marketing Abbot, St. Jude, biotech, drugs, pharma, pharmaceutical 

A year on from the revelation that digital pacemakers were vulnerable to hackers, Abbott and the FDA has announced that those with the devices are able to have the products patched to ensure their safety.

The weakness in the device meant that hackers could potentially have been able to control the function of the device or even to drain the battery, putting the user at risk of serious harm.

The ability for hackers to interfere with the device was made public by short-selling firm, Muddy Waters, and cyber security firm, MedSec Holdings. The former published a link to research describing the faults in the cyber security of the device on Twitter, which resulted in St. Jude taking the firm to court for defamation.

St. Jude released patches after the flaws were revealed but these were adjudged to be incomplete by the FDA. The additional patching will occur through physicians, with the FDA advising the update to occur in a facility where temporary pacing and pacemaker generator can be readily provided, depending on whether the patient was considered at risk. Abbott released that, based on previous patching, there was only a 0.03% likelihood of problems occurring during patching

Despite the release of these problems now being corroborated by the FDA, the litigation against Muddy Waters continues. The latter company had released the news at the same time as St. Jude were working on a deal to be purchased by Abbott, that subsequently went ahead. The firm were banking on the deal falling through, sinking St. Jude shares and making themselves a considerable profit.

“Connected devices are having a significant positive impact for patients and their health,” said Robert Ford, executive vice president, Medical Devices, Abbott. “To further protect our patients, Abbott has developed new firmware with additional security measures that can be installed on our pacemakers. All industries need to be constantly vigilant against unauthorized access…This isn’t a static process, which is why we’re working with others in the healthcare sector to ensure we’re proactively addressing common topics to further advance the security of devices and systems.”

Abbott will be hoping that this draws a line under the cases of flaws in acquisition’s products, after St. Jude was forced to recall 400,000 devices due to premature batter depletion. Unlike the cyber security flaws, the faulty devices did lead to serious consequences – with two people’s deaths in Europe linked to the devices.

Ben Hargreaves

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