[no season three spoilers], and fans across the country tuned in to find out what became of Saul, Carrie, and Brody after the season two finale. For those less familiar with the Emmy-winning Showtime thriller, the premise of Homeland centers on the hot-button topic of U.S. homeland security. The show’s protagonists are up against highly skilled terrorists who, among other things, leverage technology as a weapon. What we at ADAPTURE found interesting from a technology security standpoint was a season two plot twist that left many fans reeling—the death of Vice President Walden. The veep was taken down after his pacemaker was hacked by a terrorist. As sad of a plot twist as that was, the tech-obsessed part of us couldn’t help but dig in to the likelihood of this happening in real life. We weren’t surprised when our research led us to the late tech security maverick Barnaby Jack. When first hearing the name Barnaby Jack, it’s easy to think of a character from Pirates of the Caribbean or the name of a 1920s mob boss. But Barnaby Jack was actually a computer security pioneer who had a creative talent to expose flaws in embedded devices. As a “white hat” hacker, he dedicated his life to making computers in ATMs, cars, and medical devices safer. In one public stunt, he famously made an ATM spit out its cash like a slot machine. He passed away this year at the age of 35. Barnaby Jack might not have been seen at any speakeasies or joined the quest for the Black Pearl, but he put embedded device security on the map. Jack’s most recent work focused on the security of implantable medical devices. He was slated to present at conference that took place shortly after he passed. He was supposed to discuss his most recent findings surrounding the security of medical devices and the ability to hack medical implants. Jack’s insight might come across oddly familiar to fans Homeland (season three premiered Sep 29). [Season two spoiler alert!] In the season two episode “Broken Hearts,” Vice President Walden’s pacemaker is hacked by Abu Nazir after he acquires the serial number to the device, causing Walden to have a heart attack and die. The episode illustrates potential real-life weaknesses in medical implant security. But many of the show’s viewers were skeptical, questioning the probability that something so vital to human life could be manipulated by a hacker. Jack responded to the episode with his own incredulous reaction:
“TV is so ridiculous! You don’t need a serial number to hack a pacemaker!”
– Barnaby Jack
In a blog post from February, Jack picked apart the Homeland episode and separated fact from fiction, ultimately coming to the conclusion that it is indeed possible to kill someone by hacking a pacemaker. He wrote, “The only implausible aspect of the hack was the range in which the attack was carried out. The attacker would have had to be in the same building or have a transmitter set up closer to the target. With that said, the scenario was not too far-fetched. The technology as it stands could very easily be adapted for physicians to remotely adjust parameters and settings on these devices via the bedside transmitters. In the future, a scenario like this could certainly become a reality.” In an interview with Reuters a week before his death, Jack claimed he could kill a man from 30 feet away by hacking into an implanted heart device. His research also covered devices like insulin pumps that regulate medication intake with a tiny computer. Jack’s groundbreaking research posthumously continues to shed light on the importance of security in every aspect of computing, and while ADAPTURE focuses on security in the enterprise data center, the health of the computer security industry as a whole is never far from our minds. It’s imperative for technology professionals in every area to keep security top of mind, because you never know—it could someday save your life (or that of your favorite Homeland character).
“Broken Hearts”: How plausible was the Homeland pacemaker hack?
Famed hacker Barnaby Jack dies a week before hacking convention
Watch the ATM Hacker At Work