Human Becomes Walking Computer Virus
By Tom Wyrick. March 28, 2012, 3:45 PM CDT
British researcher Mark Gasson became the first person to infect himself with a computer virus and spread the infection to a machine, in the name of science. To be fair, this isn’t a case of human flesh actually contracting a virus made of software code. The Senior Research Fellow at the University of Reading pulled this off by infecting a tiny RFID chip with a virus first and then implanting it under his skin.
Dr. Gasson, a senior research fellow wtih the Cybernetic Intelligence Research Group at University of Reading, illustrates the benefits of the chip inside his left hand by eliminating the need to carry an ID card to gain entry to his building. He merely waves his hand near the card reader. His cellphone is programmed to recognize his RFID chip as well, preventing others from using it when he’s not in close proximity of it. However, the (non-destructive) virus he designed also infected the main computer system he uses to communicate with the chip, as was his intent.
This experiment illustrates a potential future threat. As Dr. Gasson tells Reading’s School of Systems Engineering, “I believe it is necessary to acknowledge that our next evolutionary step may well mean that we all become part machine as we look to enhance ourselves. Indeed we may find that there are significant social pressures to have implantable technologies, either because it becomes as much of a social norm as say mobile phones, or because we’ll be disadvantaged if we do not. However we must be mindful of the new threats this step brings.”
Not only could such a virus transmit itself to external devices, but the potential exists for a virus-infected implant to infect other implanted devices. Even more traditional medical implants aren’t necessarily immune from virus attacks. At last years’ Black Hat Security Conference, researcher Jay Radcliffe demonstrated a method for hacking into two different medical devices used to treat diabetes: a glucose meter and an insulin pump. He pointed out that most medical implants aren’t designed to allow firmware updates to patch security issues nor are they secured wireless connections used in cases where the devices communicate with external equipment.
I wonder what the annual subscription cost will be for McAfee Internet Security, Human Implant edition?
About Tom Wyrick
Tom Wyrick is network manager for a steel fabrication company by day, and owner of Wyrick Consulting, an on-site PC and Mac service business. He's recently been told he "has more computer power than some 3rd. world countries" at home.