Personal information in the digital realm is always susceptible to malicious activity. Passwords can be stolen from a database, credit card numbers swiped at the point of sale; even the new American passports contain RFID chips which critics claim can be surreptitiously read. Now, even a pacemaker can be hacked from the outside.

Medical devices have long been equipped with radio monitoring capabilities, but as their sophistication has grown, little attention has been paid to issues of their security. That void was the driving idea behind an experiment to see if researchers could gain wireless access to a kind of pacemaker designed to be remotely adjustable. The device is intended to be monitored and finely tuned by a patient’s doctor after implantation. But the researchers discovered they could both assume control – potentially causing bodily harm – and glean personal data from the signals.

The study hastens to point out the equipment necessary to accomplish the task is cost prohibitive and needs to be within inches of the pacemaker to work. The results were meant to illustrate the potential flaws and not to suggest these devices have an inherent danger.