LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Nearly half a million people with pacemakers need a computer update to guard their hearts from hackers.
The FDA is concerned about hackers having "unauthorized access" to the pacemakers and changing or even destroying them.
This isn't about personal information or data. It's about life and death.
The hackers could drain a pacemaker's battery or mess with the actual pacing.
Imagine the terror of a medical device keeping you alive becoming compromised by someone you do not know.
Doctor Basu Ray, a cardiac electro-physiologist at CHI Saint Vincent used these implantable pacemakers on a number of his patients.
"It's one of the popular vendors," he said.
Cardiologists recognize that this is terrifying news for patients but they should not worry.
"The amount of complexity this requires for the particular hacker to be successful is extremely difficult. This isn't the normal hacker," Basu Ray said.
The recall is for pacemakers sold by Abbott Laboratories.
Basu Ray said a person with the specific pacemaker would need to be in close range of a hacker.
"Somebody having a device that can hack, that person has to be pretty close to you, within a couple of feet," he explained.
The good news is patients do not have to undergo another surgery to fix the issue.
Basu Ray said they need to visit their doctor to have the software updated.
"The change doesn't involve another surgery, just involves you sitting in a hospital," Basu Ray said. "The reason is during the time we are updating, your pacemaker won't work, so you have to be close to a device that makes your heart go on."
In a statement, Abbott Laboratories said:
"There have been no known reports of any hacking or any patient harm; Abbott is making these updates to further strengthen the devices’ cybersecurity protections. The risk of hacking is extremely low – the Department of Homeland Security said that compromising the security of these devices would require a highly complex set of circumstances. The FDA recommends that patients talk to their doctors during their next regularly scheduled visit about the update."
To check if your device is on the recall list, you can call 1-800-722-3774