July 13, 2009
Mind control. Using everyday objects requires using your brain, mostly to control your arms and legs to manipulate them. Lately though, there have been some major breakthroughs in interfacing directly to your head, including a thought-controlled wheelchair and mind-reading machines, which have stirred up some controversy of its own. William Gibson’s vision of a computer that you can “jack” into your head is ever so closer.
And that has some security people concerned…
“Neural devices are innovating at an extremely rapid rate and hold tremendous promise for the future,” said computer security expert Tadayoshi Kohno of the University of Washington. “But if we don’t start paying attention to security, we’re worried that we might find ourselves in five or 10 years saying we’ve made a big mistake.”
Hackers tap into personal computers all the time — but what would happen if they focused their nefarious energy on neural devices, such as the deep-brain stimulators currently used to treat Parkinson’s and depression, or electrode systems for controlling prosthetic limbs? According to Kohno and his colleagues, who published their concerns July 1 in Neurosurgical Focus, most current devices carry few security risks. But as neural engineering becomes more complex and more widespread, the potential for security breaches will mushroom.
Can’t happen… can it? It would seem that trying to upload malware into your cortex would be difficult at best, if you consider that most BCI are read-only (that is, they can only read your brainwaves). Then again, if the “sex chip” proves viable, that connection will become read-write which can be “influenced,” and not by outside hackers alone:
In some cases, patients might even want to hack into their own neural device. Unlike devices to control prosthetic limbs, which still use wires, many deep brain stimulators already rely on wireless signals. Hacking into these devices could enable patients to “self-prescribe” elevated moods or pain relief by increasing the activity of the brain’s reward centers.
They’re already hacking brains. If the attacks on Epilepsy support sites are any indication, brain hacking is already occurring if not directly. Having a hacker hijack your brainstem is not possible just yet, but on the day when neural interfaces and neuron reprogramming come together, you can bet that meatbots will abound and we will be facing a real zombie apocalypse…