In the future, cyberattacks may be able to exploit the memory implants to steal, to watch, to change or control the human memories. And while we are several decades of the most radical threats, the necessary technology is already in the form of deep brain stimulation devices, and as follows… vulnerable.
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Scientists learn how memories are generated in the brain and can target them, to the restoration and to enhance using implantable devices. However, there are vulnerabilities in related software and these must be addressed if we are ready for the threats that preceded the coming years, according to a new research report of Kaspersky Lab and “Functional Neurosurgery Group” of the University of Oxford presented at the annual “Kaspersky Next” conference in Barcelona.
The researchers combined practical and theoretical analysis to investigate the current vulnerabilities of implanted devices used for deep brain stimulation.
Known as “implantable pulse generators (IPG)” or “neurostimulators”, they send electrical pulses to specific parts of the brain to treat disorders such as “Parkinson’s disease”, “idiopathic tremor”, “major depressive disorder” and “obsessive compulsive disorder disorder”. The latest generation of these implants is accompanied by management software -which is installed on tablets and smartphones- for both clinicians and patients. The connection between them is based on the standard Bluetooth protocol.
The researchers found a series of existing and potential threats, each of which could be exploited by the invaders. These include:
- Exposed Associated Infrastructures – Researchers have identified a serious vulnerability and many worrying misconfigurations on an e-government platform popular in surgical teams that could lead an attacker to sensitive data and treatment processes.
- The unsafe or unencrypted data transfer between the implant, the software, and any associated networks could allow malicious interference in a patient’s implant or even interference across entire patient groups with implants linked to the same infrastructure. Handling implants can lead to changes that cause pain, paralysis or theft of private and confidential personal data.
- Design constraints as patient health prevails over security. For example, a medical implant must be checked by doctors in emergency situations, even when a patient is hospitalized away from his / her place of residence. This excludes the use of any password that is not widely known to clinicians. Further, it means that, by default, such implants must be provided with backdoor software.
- Unsafe behavior of medical staff – Programs with patient-critical software have been found to remain with default security passwords, and used to browse the Internet or with installed additional applications.
Addressing these vulnerable issues is crucial because researchers believe that in the coming decades the most advanced neurostimulators and the deeper understanding of how the human brain forms and stores memories will accelerate the development and use of such technologies and create new opportunities for cyber attacks.
Within five years, scientists expect to be able to electronically record brain signals that create memories and then reinforce or rewrite them before repositioning them in the brain. In a decade since now, the first implants to boost memory could emerge in the market; and, over 20 years, technology could go well enough to allow extensive control of memories.
The new threats that arise from it could include massive manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, while “redefined” digital threats could target new opportunities for digital espionage or theft, erasure or “blocking” memories (for example, in exchange for ransom).
“The current vulnerabilities matter because the technology that exists today is the foundation for what will happen in the future. Although there have been no attacks on the natural environment with a focus on “neurostimulators”, there are signs of weakness that will not be difficult to exploit. We need to bring together health professionals, digital security professionals and manufacturers to explore and mitigate all possible vulnerabilities, both what we are seeing today and those that will emerge in the coming years.”
The Laurie Pycroft, doctoral researcher in the “Group of Functional Neurosurgery” of Oxford University, added:
“Memory implants are a real and exciting prospect, offering significant benefits to health care. The prospect of changing and enhancing our memories with electrodes may sound like fiction, but it is based on a solid science, the foundations of which are already present today. Memory implants are only a matter of time.Collaboration to understand and address emerging risks and vulnerabilities, while this technology remains relatively new, will deliver in the future.”
Source: Sophocleous in
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