They can hear your heartbeats: Non-invasive security for implantable medical devices

Shyamnath Gollakota, Haitham Hassanieh, Benjamin Ransford, Dina Katabi, Kevin Fu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wireless communication has become an intrinsic part of modern implantable medical devices (IMDs). Recent work, however, has demonstrated that wireless connectivity can be exploited to compromise the confidentiality of IMDs' transmitted data or to send unauthorized commands to IMDs-even commands that cause the device to deliver an electric shock to the patient. The key challenge in addressing these attacks stems from the difficulty of modifying or replacing already-implanted IMDs. Thus, in this paper, we explore the feasibility of protecting an implantable device from such attacks without modifying the device itself. We present a physical-layer solution that delegates the security of an IMD to a personal base station called the shield. The shield uses a novel radio design that can act as a jammer-cum-receiver. This design allows it to jam the IMD's messages, preventing others from decoding them while being able to decode them itself. It also allows the shield to jam unauthorized commands-even those that try to alter the shield's own transmissions. We implement our design in a software radio and evaluate it with commercial IMDs. We find that it effectively provides confidentiality for private data and protects the IMD from unauthorized commands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-13
Number of pages12
JournalComputer Communication Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 15 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Full-duplex
  • Implanted medical devices
  • Wireless

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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