Be smart about your smart home

Did you know that “smart homes” sometimes feel like the haunted houses of today?

People report that lights go on and off for no reason, doors unlock themselves in the night, furnaces shut down in the middle of winter and then mysteriously turn themselves back on….the list goes on.

Homes Easily Hacked

On a single day in October 2016, printers and other home devices were hacked en masse and infected with a malicious virus that brought much of the Internet down.  News outlets like CNN, Fox News, BBC, The Guardian and many others were affected. 

Amazon, Twitter, Spotify, and Netflix went down, some for hours.  Financial services such as Visa and Paypal were also down (and the list goes on and on, by the way). 

The hackers triggered refrigerators, printers, DVDs, and other things connected to the Internet to send hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of messages to those companies’ systems, overwhelming sites around the world.nt 

Your home is highly hackable when your devices have easy passwords.

What can you do?

Understand all of your devices and ask the sales people how to protect your home.  If you’re still not completely sure, go online and seek out further answers.  

SIMPLE THING:  Always put a complex password on anything and everything that uses your home WIFI.

Also, we’ve heard that the cheaper the product, the less likely it is that it has the necessary security features you need to keep you and your family safe.   To be smart about your smart home.

  1. Change the default password on everything you own!

  2. Read the terms and conditions of each product or at least save a copy of each software agreement to read later.

  3. Limit what needs (really needs) to be connected to the internet.

  4. Keep all your software updated at all times. Companies are constantly patching up security holes – be sure you have the most current version of software (which means you should have the most current security fix).

Stay safe.

When help can hurt

We know that many people are alive today because of the incredible advances in medical technology.  We applaud the efforts of researchers and the companies that employ them as they work to improve the quality of life for many people who need help.

The medical device industry, itself, is now concerned about the fact that many of its software-driven devices are connected to the Internet Of Things, including surgical equipment connected to a phone while a patient is undergoing surgery.  Without robust cyber security protection, many devices are vulnerable.  In fact, in 2017, nearly 500,000 pacemakers were recalled in the U.S. because they can be hacked.

Far too many products, including medical devices, have not been designed from a cybersecurity perspective and can be hacked.  Plenty of  bugs (flaws) in the software make products unsafe.  The public has a right to be protected from flawed products.

Why does this happen?

Many factors may contribute to problematic medical device software being delivered to vulnerable patients, including:

  • pressure to get a product to market faster than competitors, which can lead to manufacturers taking shortcuts and not testing as thoroughly as they should
  • increased interdependencies between the devices being built and other systems which then add complexity to the way the product works.
Plus, we have no software safety laws.  Product safety regulations were designed long ago, before software came on the scene.  
Not long ago, only 1 in 20 medical device recalls were due to faulty software.  Today (2018), that number is 1 in ever 4 recalls are due to software issues.

What can you do?

If you have a medical device implant or use medical devices to maintain your health, speak with your doctor about any concerns you have and find out how to keep track of what’s going on with any software-driven product you may be using.  

Over time, as our company GlitchTrax grows, we will work on ways to bring you the most up-to-date information that you can use to keep your loved ones safe.

Other options:

  • You can always look for recall information at this FDA recall site, but it’s not always easy to understand, or


  • You can set up an automatic google alert search using details about the medical device you’re concerned about. If your device is recalled, you’ll get an email from google. If you’re not sure how to do this, just go to this blog and follow the steps (or have a friend of the family help you out).

Some recent examples

What we would like you to understand is that glitch happens™, even in devices that are supposed to save lives.  The following is just a sample of some medical device recalls.

Here are some examples of medical device recalls that need a software fix.

Heart pump controller requires software upgrade; 26 deaths in U.S.

No fewer than 26 deaths have been reported because patients could not replace the Heartmate II LVAS system controller fast enough.  Software upgrades are being issued to 28,882 devices that have been recalled in the U.S., and new devices will have upgraded hardware and new software.

Source:  U.S. FDA Medical Recalls 2017

Nearly 500,000 pacemakers recalled because they can be hacked

August, 2017 – The U.S. FDA recalled nearly 500,000 pacemakers due to concerns that their “lax cybersecurity could be hacked to run the batteries down or even alter the patient’s heartbeat.”

These radio-controlled pacemakers were all made by Abbott and sold under the brand name “St. Jude Medical.”

Source:  The Guardian

Defect can cause serious injury and/or death

April, 2014 – An anaesthesia delivery device was urgently recalled. The equipment, which not only delivers anaesthesia during surgery but also oxygen to the patient, had a glitch that can cause it to suddenly stop.

The bug was so serious that and the FDA issued the recall as a “Class 1” recall, the most urgent, as it could cause severe injury or death.

There was also some concern about the device because it has a USB port that allows a telephone to be plugged into it – this is a hacking risk.

Source:  ARS Technica   

Making patients “breathe on their own” is a deadly software glitch

March, 2014 – 15 years after the ventilators were first produced, the US FDA issued a Class 1 designation due to a software glitch that could trigger a code requiring the patient to breathe on his or her own.

What does this mean? It means that if someone is hooked to a ventilator because they cannot breathe on their own, this software glitch will mistakenly cause the machine to stop ventilating, as it “thinks” the patient is supposed to breathe on his or her own.

Covidien’s Puritan Bennett 840 Series Ventilator was built between 1998 and 2010 — the US FDA Class 1 recall was issued in 2013. These ventilators are used on infants as well as paediatric and adult patients.

Other ventilators have deadly software glitches, too.

Hamilton Medical, a ventilation device manufacturer based in Sweden, also received a US FDA Class 1 designation on its devices in 2012.

Source: US FDA Medical Recall

Stay safe.

When you call 911 and no one answers – what do you do?

Imagine how frightening it would be to frantically call emergency services because you urgently needed help but you keep getting a fast-busy signal or endless ringing because of a software glitch.

And it goes on for hours.

What about being in an ambulance, receiving what you hope is life-saving help, and the equipment fails because of a software glitch.

Or calling for an ambulance and being forced to wait because a software glitch in the engine software shut down the engine when the ambulance was half way to your home.

These things are happening with greater regularity.  It used to be that a massive 911 “outage” (where no calls can get through) was a very rare event.  Yet now, in the U.S. in just one year, it happened 4 times and affected millions of people.


What can you do?

Always call 911 first.  But as a backup, you should always keep in your wallet, in your phone’s contact list, and at your home the specific telephone numbers for the following services in your area:

  • Police Station
  • Nearest Fire Station
  • Hospital Emergency

Remember, if you’re in North America, always call 911 (elsewhere, dial the specific emergency services number in your own country), but if that doesn’t work, call the direct line to the emergency service you urgently require.

And make sure your family knows where you keep those numbers in case the kids are home alone or someone needs to call to get you some help.

A few examples

Ambulance Dispatch System Fails

June, 2017 – A software update that had taken place 18 months earlier caused the London, U.K. ambulance emergency service telephone dispatch system to fail.

London’s Computer Aided Dispatch system went down for nearly five hours on New Year’s Day, forcing dispatchers to take notes and explain the information to the emergency crews by phone.

Source:. The Register

Ambulance and Fire Truck Engine Software Recall

March, 2015 – The Canadian Federal Transport Agency recalled Ford ambulances and firetrucks due to a software problem in the engine that could “result in an engine shut down and subsequent inability to quickly restart the vehicle.”  The agency noted that this “could delay medical treatment and increase the risk of injury to the patient.”

Source:  Transport Canada Recall NoticeConsumers Affairs

Ford recalls half of the ambulances in Texas

November, 2013 – Ford recalled half of the ambulances operating in Texas due to a software sensor flaw that interferes with the engine’s performance and could prevent an engine from starting.


Nationwide (U.S.) 911 Outage

March, 2017 – For 5 hours, not one AT&T wireless customer could reach emergency services.  The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is investigating.

Source:  The Washington Post

Stay safe.

How to make an out-of-control car come to a stop (BEFORE a crash)

Sudden Unintended Acceleration – when your car races out of control and you can’t make it stop (and the brakes don’t work) has been proven to be caused by faulty software.

These days, just about all of us drive around in a computer on wheels.  Cars can have up to 100 million lines of software code.  We know what happens when a computer isn’t working properly and needs a reboot.  Do you know what to do if you’re stuck in a car that’s racing out of control and you can’t make it stop?

According to Consumer Reports®, if you’re stuck in a runaway car, do this:

What can you do?

  1. Press the brakes FIRMLY (don’t pump them).
  2. Put the car in NEUTRAL and steer to a safe place.
  3. If required, turn the engine OFF, shift to PARK and call for help.

(Do not drive the vehicle – wait for assistance.)

You may want to safely practice this technique first.

When you shut a car engine off, you lose power steering control.  While this isn’t desirable, the fact is that if you are unable to make your car come to a stop, it might be the best and only thing you can do.  

So practice first — safely in an empty parking lot — if you can.

Even if you don’t own a brand new car with all the bells and whistles, if your car was made in the 21st century it’s likely being run by a lot more software than you may realize.

If your car sometimes behaves like has a mind of its own and you don’t feel safe, make a note of it, take it to the dealer, and also file a vehicle safety complaint with your country’s regulatory authority.

Various Regulatory Authorities

Each country has its own regulatory body.  If you do not live in one of the countries listed here, please search for the agency in your area.

Stay safe.

Your car is a computer on wheels

Your car is a computer on wheels with up to 100 million lines of software code.  When a software glitch happens, it can be deadly.

Cars and trucks are now routinely recalled due to software glitches and yet there are no software safety laws.  None.  While auto companies claim that car software saves lives, the fact is this:  the number of highway traffic deaths has increased significantly and software glitches have contributed to this carnage.

If your car careens out of control because of a software glitch, how can you prove it wasn’t your fault?  And how can regulatory agencies understand what went wrong if they can only rely on the car manufacturer’s word, unsubstantiated by third party verification?

One resource at your disposal is When Cars Decide to Kill. Our CEO & Co-Founder wrote this book to help you understand what you can do to protect yourself and how we can make car software safer.

Written by an international software test expert in a friendly, conversational tone, When Cars Decide to Kill guides you to understand what we need to do to get the attention of an industry that very much needs more scrutiny.

Stay safe.