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Brainjacking - Moving from Science Fiction to Reality and Associated risks
Technology - March 11, 2021
We live in an interconnected age where nearly aspect of human life is made more simple by internet-operated computer devices. This interconnectivity has improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world, but it has also made us vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. Today, from cars to smart light bulbs, many devices are vulnerable to being hacked. But vulnerabilities posed by implanted medical devices is perhaps the most worrying threat. The ease with which the security of pacemakers and insulin pumps can be compromised has been proven by scientific and tech theories. These findings should make cautious when dealing with medical device implantation in our bodies.
Brainjacking is a new cybersecurity threat that is predicted to emerge in the near future, targeting unauthorized access and control of brain implants. This threat has been discussed in various technology forums and even in science fiction, but a review of the advances in implant technology illustrates how this can become a reality.
Sensors that are connected to the human brain and linked to an external body are brain implants, often medically referred to as neural implants. Doctors worldwide use brain implants to help disabled people transfer their prostheses. Doctors commonly use it to support patients with Parkinson's disease, chronic pain, tremors, muscle spasms, etc.
Targeting multiple brain areas with different stimulation parameters provides more detailed control over the human brain to neurosurgeons, helping them to relieve distressing symptoms. This precise regulation of the brain, however, combined with the wireless control of stimulators, often opens an opportunity for malicious attackers to go into a domain of profoundly alarming attacks beyond the simpler harms that may come with the control of insulin pumps or cardiac implants.
Brainjacking is the method by which a person's brain implants are hacked in an unauthorized way. Once hacked, the cyber attackers might induce behavioral changes and could also include impairment of motor function, alteration of impulse control, induction of pain, modification of emotions or affect. These attacks would not be easy to mitigate, as they would require a high level of technological competence. This is the reason, the manufacturers of brain implants need to be taken care of as early as possible to ensure the safety of these neural devices.
Risks of Brainjacking
The market size of brain implants is predicted to reach $8.29 billion by 2025. This corresponds to an increasing number of people using brain implants in the coming future. But with the rise in the number of people using this technology, there is a strong probability that a hacker could access the wireless system of the neural implants. This would allow a hacker to change the implant's settings, causing harm to the patients linked to it.
Examples of potential attacks involve adjusting stimulation settings to induce greater distress on people with chronic pain. Or a patient with Parkinson's might have their ability to move inhibited. In theory, a sophisticated intruder may also cause behavioral changes such as hypersexuality or pathological gambling, or even exert influence over the conduct of the patient by stimulating parts of the brain associated with reward learning. It should be noted that these hacks would be difficult to accomplish as they would require a high degree of technical competence and the ability to track the victim. However, prevention is always better than cure and we must prepare ourselves before unintended consequences occur.
Brainjacking: Hype, Real or both
Brain implants are gaining wider acceptance in the medical field. As the technology is approved to treat more diseases, becomes more affordable, and adopts more functionality, it can be expected to be a positive solution for a greater number of patients . However, this also exposes people to enhanced cybersecurity threats as more sophisticated and tech-dependent brain implants could be enticing targets for cyber-criminals. Consider that if a hacker could influence how you behave and think, imagine what a terrorist might do with access to the mind of a powerful politician. Such situations would then make the unfortunate jump from the sphere of science fiction to real life.
It is important to note that there is no evidence to show that any of these implants in the real world have been exposed to such cyber-attack or that patients that have them should be concerned. However, before it becomes a reality this is a issue that device manufacturers, regulators, scientists, engineers, and clinicians need to consider. The future of neurological implants is promising but even a single high-profile incident could irreparably harm public trust in the safety, security, and usability of these devices. Therefore the severity and consequences of brainjacking need to be addressed seriously before such malicious events take place.
In this blog we observed that if safety measures are not established, brainjacking could potentially put many people's health and lives at risk.
Therefore, along with the development of the brain implant system, developers should take care to protect brain implant users from any kind of hacking. The designers of brain implants must work out strategies for mitigating cyber threats like brainjacking by understanding the anatomy of these cyber-attacks.