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Scientist infects himself with a computer virus


May 27, 2010

A UK researcher has infected his RFID implant with a computer virus as proof of principle that future devices could be prone to attack (Image: CC)

A UK researcher has infected his RFID implant with a computer virus as proof of principle that future devices could be prone to attack (Image: CC)

A researcher from the UK's University of Reading has warned of possible future infection issues for recipients of medical implants. The cause for concern is not biological, though. Dr. Mark Gasson's disquiet relates to the fact that as implants become more sophisticated, the computerized systems running them could become prone to virus attack. And to prove his point, the good doctor purposely infected a chip implanted in his hand with a virus, which subsequently spread to an external communication system.

Last year, Dr Gasson of the University of Reading's School of Systems Engineering had a sophisticated Radio Frequency Identification chip inserted into his left hand "as part of research into human enhancement and the potential risks of implantable devices." He has been since using it to grant him access to University buildings and activate his mobile phone. It's also been used to track and log his movements.

In order to determine if such technology is prone to the same security threats suffered by computer systems, Dr. Gasson's chip was infected with a virus. The researcher found that the corruptive code was then passed onto the main system used to communicate with the chip. Had other devices been connected to the system, the infection might have spread. Security threat or scare story? In summary, Dr. Gasson said the research showed "that implantable technology has developed to the point where implants are capable of communicating, storing and manipulating data. They are essentially mini computers. This means that, like mainstream computers, they can be infected by viruses and the technology will need to keep pace with this so that implants, including medical devices, can be safely used in the future."

Experts at Internet security firm Sophos, however, have accused Dr. Gasson of scaremongering. The company's Graham Cluley said, "Scientists should be responsible in how they present their research, rather than hyping up threats in order to get headlines. Any virus code on the RFID chip would be utterly incapable of running unless a serious security hole existed in the external device reading it. Predictions of pacemakers and cochlear implants being hit by virus infections is the very worst kind of scaremongering."

The results of the experiment are to be presented at next month's IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society in Australia.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

great, first our computers crashed. Then our computers and their systems connects crashed. Then we put Intel and Bill Bill Inside our cars and ....well cars do crash, don\'t they. Now I have to worry that I< me, this old meatsuit, might crash if I use any high tech devices. Great. And they will scan me for the billings and get the proceedures, steal my identity via my secure records up link, and I will be left after the crash?

I\'m not buying into it.


Speaking as someone with a sick sense of humor, I find this screamingly funny. Here, humans, have a little more rope -- don\'t think you can tie off that noose yet.

I\'ll probably be looking at something implantable before long, so I will surely get my comeuppance.

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