iPad Magnets Disable Defibrilators (and a security axiom)

Security axiom: You’re only ever as secure as your level of understanding.

It turns out many implantable defibrilators have a “magnet mode” that turns them off when they’re in a magnetic field. (Anyone know why? Does this apply only to defibrilators or pacemakers and the like too?)

The Apple tablet contains a bunch of magnets, used to hold the cover in place. Bring the tablet too close to your chest for too long, and the thing creates enough of a magnetic field to turn off the defibrilator.

Presumably if you know your heart-zapper does this, there’s no problem. Maybe even a neat workaround if the thing goes crazy, in light of earlier stories on how easy the gadgets are to hack. But it seems patients aren’t aware… nor are their doctors. Which is why it took an overachieving 14 year old girl to spot the potential hazard.


“If a person falls asleep with the iPad2 on the chest, the magnets in the cover can “accidentally turn off” the heart device, said Chien, a high school freshman in Stockton, California, whose father is a doctor. “I definitely think people should be aware. That’s why I’m presenting the study.”

Defibrillators, as a safety precaution, are designed to be turned off by magnets. The iPad2 uses 30 magnets to hold the iPad2’s cover in place, Chien said. While the iPad2 magnets aren’t powerful enough to cause problems when a person is holding the tablet out in front of the chest, it can be risky to rest it against the body, she found. […]

The study involving 26 volunteers with defibrillators found “magnet mode” was triggered in 30 percent of patients who put the tablet on their chest. The iPad2 didn’t interfere with four pacemakers or a loop-recorder, which were also tested. Walter Chien, a cardiac electrophysiologist, helped his daughter coordinate the patient testing. “

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