Paper 2016/867

A survey on physiological-signal-based security for medical devices

Eduard Marin, Enrique Argones Rúa, Dave Singelée, and Bart Preneel


Implantable Medical Devices (IMDs) are used to monitor and control patients with chronic diseases. A growing number of IMDs are equipped with a wireless interface that allows non-invasive monitoring and reprogramming through an external device, also known as device programmer. However, this wireless interface also brings important security and privacy risks that may lead to remote attacks. In this domain, the use of cryptography is challenging due to the inherent tensions between security vs accessibility and security vs energy cost. A well-studied problem yet unsolved is how to establish (and manage) cryptographic keys between the device programmer and the IMD. Recent work has investigated how Physiological Signals (PS) extracted from the patient can be used for key agreement or authentication between the devices. This paper surveys some of the proposed countermeasures in the field of medical device security, with a special focus on those that use patient's physiological signals for key establishment or authentication between the devices. We point out that most of the existing solutions, including those relying on PS, take assumptions that do not necessarily hold in practical scenarios. Furthermore, we show that the H2H protocol and the Biosec protocol have serious security weaknesses and design flaws which make them vulnerable to attacks. Based on our analysis, we define some of the challenges that need be addressed before adopting these solutions. Furthermore, we investigate how to use physiological-signal-based protocols in cryptography, possibly in combination with other solutions, such as pre-installed factory keys, to achieve higher security protection.

Available format(s)
Publication info
Preprint. MINOR revision.
Contact author(s)
eduard marin @ esat kuleuven be
2016-09-10: received
Short URL
Creative Commons Attribution


      author = {Eduard Marin and Enrique Argones Rúa and Dave Singelée and Bart Preneel},
      title = {A survey on physiological-signal-based security for medical devices},
      howpublished = {Cryptology ePrint Archive, Paper 2016/867},
      year = {2016},
      note = {\url{}},
      url = {}
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