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How Hackers Could Get Inside Your Head With ‘Brain Malware’

Hackers have spyware in your mind. You’re minding your business, playing a game or scrolling through social media, and all the while they’re gathering your most private information direct from your brain signals. Your likes and dislikes. Your political preferences. Your sexuality. Your PIN.

It’s a futuristic scenario, but not that futuristic. The idea of securing our thoughts is a real concern with the introduction of brain-computer interfaces—devices that are controlled by brain signals such as EEG (electroencephalography), and which are already used in medical scenarios and, increasingly, in non-medical applications such as gaming.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle say that we need to act fast to implement a privacy and security framework to prevent our brain signals from being used against us before the technology really takes off.

“There’s actually very little time,” said electrical engineer Howard Chizeck over Skype. “If we don’t address this quickly, it’ll be too late.”

I first met Chizeck and fellow engineer Tamara Bonaci when I visited the University of Washington Biorobotics Lab to check out their work on hacking teleoperated surgical robots. While I was there, they showed me some other hacking research they were working on, including how they could use a brain-computer interface (BCI), coupled with subliminal messaging in a videogame, to extract private information about an individual


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