Want to Hack My Brain ?
Hackers who commandeer your computer are bad enough. Now scientists worry that someday, they’ll try to take over your brain.
In the past year, researchers have developed technology that makes it possible to use thoughts to operate a computer, maneuver a wheelchair or even use Twitter — all without lifting a finger.
But as neural devices become more complicated, and go wireless, some scientists say the risks of “brain hacking” should be taken seriously. What would happen if a hacker focused his nefarious energy on neural devices, such as the deep-brain stimulators used to treat Parkinson’s and depression, or electrode systems for controlling prosthetic limbs?
Some might question why anyone would want to hack into someone else’s brain, but the researchers say there’s a precedent for using computers to cause neurological harm. In November 2007 and March 2008, malicious programmers vandalized epilepsy support Web sites by putting up flashing animations, which caused seizures in some photo-sensitive patients. 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.
History provides plenty of examples of why it’s important to think about security before it becomes a problem. Perhaps the best example is the Internet, which was originally conceived as a research project and didn’t take security into account. Because the Internet was not originally designed with security in mind it is incredibly challenging — if not impossible — to retrofit the existing Internet infrastructure to meet all of today’s security goals.
Neural devices are innovating at an extremely rapid rate and hold tremendous promise for the future. But if we don’t start paying attention to security, we might well find ourselves in five or 10 years saying we’ve made a big mistake. Learn from the past, what say ?