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Is Implant Hacking a Problem of the Future?

Is Implant Hacking a Problem of the Future?
August 17
13:07 2016

Future advancements are often an exciting topic to think and talk about. Will we be alive when cars fly? Will brain implants that improve memory, enhance vision, or give you skills you always wished you possessed be available in your lifetime?

Even though technology seems especially promising in the future, these advancements present new challenges.

A group of scientists and neurosurgeons wrote a paper published in World Neurosurgery explaining one of these dangers in detail. Organ implants can get hacked, also known as brainjacking.

So far, there are two known hacking cases both on insulin pumps.

In 2011, researcher and diabetic Jay Radclifee demonstrated how an insulin pump could be easily hacked when he cracked the security with a cheap computer chip and radio transmitter device. He then outlined how the pump could be hacked to commit a lethal attack.

Then another researcher Barnaby Jack gained unauthorized control of an insulin pump and implantable defibrillator.

Today’s medical implants often allow adjustments to be made without invasion, meaning through wireless technology. But, this means they are less secure.

Where it gets especially dangerous is when hackers gain access to brain implants. They could then control the behavior of the individuals equipped with the implant.

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is a procedure whereas a neurostimulator is implanted into the brain and transmits electrical impulses. DBS is used to regulate symptoms from Parkinson’s disease, tremors and even for disorders like depression and OCD.

But if these implants are hacked, the damage could be serious. “Once an attacker has successfully breached security on a device, they have several options for brain-jacking their victim. Stimulation parameters including voltage/current, frequency, pulse width, and electrode contact can be altered in order to change the effect of stimulation. These potential attacks are unlikely to be directly lethal, but may cause serious harm and distress,” written in the Brainjacking: Implant Security Issues in Invasive Neuromodulation report.

There are two different types of attacked explained in the report.

First there is the blind attack, this is when a hacker switches off the device or purposely ruins the battery life. Then there is the targeted attack, where the hacker who knows the victim’s medical condition can gain more control. Specifically, some of these attacks “include impairment of motor function, alteration of impulse control, modification of emotions or affect, induction of pain, and modulation of the reward system,” writes the report.

Ultimately, the findings in this paper prove that security measures need to be heightened before brain implants become common medical devices. Consumers should not only expect, but require these devices to be more secure than the smartphone in their pocket.

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Kerri Adams

Kerri Adams

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