And all I did was tune in to watch the latest episodes of Showtime's Homeland.
If you were among the record 2.3 million viewers who watched the season two finale recently, you already understand what I mean. If not, let me bring you up to speed.
Homeland is a psychological thriller starring Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA operations officer who is convinced a former American prisoner in Iraq was turned by the enemy and poses a significant risk to national security. The latest plot twist had terrorists hacking into the vice president's pacemaker -- and delivering enough jolts to cause a fatal heart attack.
As Pat Calhoun, senior vice president and general manager, Network Security at McAfee, wrote in a CNBC guest blog:
His death was the terrifying result of a pacemaker sent into super-fibrillation by a 20-something terrorist located continents away using his laptop and a stolen serial number to hack the wirelessly controlled medical device and instruct it to kill its host... Homeland's writers didn't know it but they just sent a national wake-up call.
Scary, right? And even though some medical professionals, including Dr. Charles Lampe, a cardiac electrophysiologist in Dallas, claim such a scenario is "very, very unlikely," there may be real reasons for concern.
Weeks before the episode of Homeland aired, a professional hacker warned that pacemakers could be infiltrated to deliver deadly shocks. Barnaby Jack, director of embedded device security at IOActive in San Francisco, demonstrated how this could happen at the Breakpoint 2012 security conference in Melbourne, Australia.
Jack used a laptop to send a series of 830-volt shocks to a remote pacemaker -- similar to the attack featured in Homeland. He also used another "secret function" he said pacemakers possess to activate all pacemakers and implantable defibrillators within a 30-foot radius, forcing the devices to give up their serial numbers and paving the way for an "anonymous assassin" to commit "mass murder."
It wasn't the first time Jack detailed the potential security risks from medical devices. In early 2012, while still working as a security researcher at McAfee, Jack demonstrated ways to remotely hack into medical devices such as insulin pumps and pacemakers.
Wireless pacemakers can report diagnostic information from the patient to his medical team 24 hours a day. They haven't been around very long -- in 2010, 82-year-old Floyd Edminston was described as "one of the first patients in the country" to get one during surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. But it didn't take long for concerns about possible hacks of the data-driven devices to emerge, as a 2011 story in Scientific American explains:
Some experiments to "hack" into pacemakers capable of communicating wirelessly with computers and smart phones have been demonstrated by security researchers, but there have been no reported incidents of wireless pacemaker data being tampered with to the detriment of a patient.
Still, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts Amherst developed an anti-hacking jamming device that could be used to shield pacemakers from cyber attackers. Researchers presented "They Can Hear Your Heartbeats: Non-Invasive Security for Implantable Medical Devices" at the SIGCOMM communications conference in August 2011.
Too bad the vice president in that episode of Homeland didn't have one.