New Cranial Implant Raises Concerns Over "Brain Hacking"
by Jason Roth
A new device, meant to convert brain waves into data and transmit the data via wireless technology into the minds of other wearers of the device, is being criticized as the next major target of hackers.
The device, reportedly codenamed "Mind Reader", is now in development at Sony Broadcast & Professional Research Labs, sources say. Located in Hampshire, UK and with 80% of its funding reportedly coming from Japan, the research organization specializes in the development of "core technologies and components to enhance future B&P products worldwide".
Mind Reader is said to be a collaboration of B&P Research Labs' own "DataCast R&D" and "Human Factors" laboratories, with some sources reporting the involvement of a "shadow lab" known to insiders only as "The Skull Club". Industry sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say "The Skull Club" was originally created by Sony for the purposes of developing new hands-free interfaces for game consoles and mobile gaming devices.
Little information is available about Mind Reader, but from descriptions pieced together from several anonymous employee interviews and internal company documents posted to the Internet, it appears that Mind Reader not only exists, but has been in its testing phase for almost 18 months.
Security experts are expressing concerns that "brain hacking", also known as "mind hijacking", is a real possibility for anyone with inside knowledge of the device's operating system. The problem, security experts say, is not so much in the device's ability to convert brain waves into data for transmission, but rather in its ability to receive and decode that data.
The wearer of the Mind Reader, sources say, is open to direct attacks from hackers. Apparently, hackers may be able to access the wearer's brain through the very system that receives data and converts it back into the impulses that the brain comprehends. Once the user is "brain hacked", the sky's the limit, some experts claim.
The most credible threat upon the Mind Reader user may be the open exposure of his or her brain to a direct attack, not by other human brains, but by distributed networks of computers working together to exploit any weaknesses in the user's brain.
The most basic attack is said to be a "denial of service" attack, a form of attack already in use on the Web. Startlingly, security experts report, denial of service attacks can now be applied against the human brain. In this form of attack, the hacker utilizes one or more computers, often without the computer owners' consent or awareness, and feeds "noise", or incomprehensible data, into the user's brain. The useless data is uploaded into the user's brain at such high rates of speed that the user's brain is temporarily overwhelmed and stalls. If the user is standing up, let alone performing safety-critical activities, the results could be disastrous.
Another potential attack occurs when the hacker essentially commandeers the user's brain, for the purpose of influencing the user's thinking, or worse yet, their behavior. Experts say that the Mind Reader does the hard part for the hackers, that is, the conversion of data into brain waves. In theory, hackers could implant thoughts, memories, even advertising and promotional messages. The day may come, some experts say, when companies may give up persuasion and salesmanship in favor of direct psychological manipulation.
There is a group of security experts who believe that "mental spam" may be the wave of the future. Unwanted thoughts, pornographic images, scams, and hoaxes that are commonplace in our e-mail boxes may eventually be sent directly into our minds. For the time being, experts say, the best precaution is to refrain from cranial implants until a reliable security system is developed and tested.
One such security proposal, the "mind link", still in its conceptual stage, requires users to be within the physical proximity of one another before data transmission can occur. In this way, advocates say, data communication between brains occurs on a purely voluntary basis, and the reception and processing of data remains well within each user's control.
Critics say that users will always be capable of incomplete or erroneous data processing, and therefore safety precautions would be necessary. A new type of filter mechanism, in some ways similar to today's e-mail spam filters, would do the job of pre-processing data before it is received. After the data is pre-processed, the brain would be capable of handling all data deemed non-malicious.
Still, other experts believe, some users' brains may eventually malfunction on their own.