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Where there is information, an attempt at exploitation is inevitable. As Morgan Freeman expresses in the show, “Through the Wormhole”,
We live a world of data. One day soon, our innermost thoughts may no longer be our own.
In today’s world, the major threat of exploitation of information lies in the digital world. Data breaches, like those of Yahoo, have put in jeopardy, sensitive personal information. While one can minimize the amount of sensitive data that is offered into the digital world, a reservoir remains that cannot be adjusted: the human brain.
At the Enigma security conference in Oakland, California, on Tuesday, University of Washington researcher Tamara Bonaci described an experiment that demonstrated how a simple video game could be used to covertly harvest neural responses to periodically displayed subliminal images. Turns out, the human brain could very well be the next target for hackers.
How Brain Hacking Works
Bonaci’s research focuses on cyber security and privacy, especially in conjunction with biomedical devices. The information that is used in her experiment to determine neural responses is gathered from a person’s electro-physical signals.
Flappy Whale, the game developed to demonstrate this, measures the subjects’ reaction to certain inconspicuous items. This includes innocuous brand logos, placed cunningly so as to avoid being consciously detected by the subject.
In fact, Flappy Whale had what Bonaci calls a BCI, short for “brain-connected interface”. It came in the form of seven electrodes that connected to the player’s head and measured electroencephalography signals in real time.
The electrical signals produced by the brain, as reactions to these baits, are packed with private information. The scariest bit is, the subject reveals information without being aware of it. Information can also be obtained by modifying legitimate BCI equipment, such as those used by doctors.
The information collected is so thorough, it can apparently disclose minute details including a person’s religious beliefs, political leanings, medical conditions, and prejudices.
This technology has diverse prospects. It could evolve to understand human response to a military device. The possibilities range from an incredibly useful research tool to a potentially frightening interrogation device.
Is Brain Hacking a Threat At Present
There’s no present evidence of any such hack successfully executed in real world. However, it is possible for the makers of virtual reality headgear, body-connected fitness apps, or other types of software and hardware to covertly hoard information.
However, the concerning fact is that these signals produced by the brain are so sensitive that they should be classified as personally identifiable information. They must be subject to the same protections as names, addresses, ages, and other types of PII.
Therefore, researchers and game developers who collect such data for legitimate reasons should develop measures to prohibit harvesting raw data.They should be aware of any cases of “spillage” of potentially sensitive data inside responses that might contain otherwise mundane information.
As biomedical technology and virtual reality continue to develop and improve, brain hacking will become increasingly more relevant. Security is an aspect of utmost importance, and this shows how a small neglect can potentially cause serious breaches.