Could humans be infected by computer viruses?

May 26, 2010
Dr Mark Gasson

(PhysOrg.com) -- A scientist at the University of Reading has become the first person in the world to be infected by a computer virus.

Dr Mark Gasson, from the School of Systems Engineering, contaminated a computer chip which had been inserted into his hand as part of research into human enhancement and the potential risks of implantable devices.

These results could have huge implications for implantable computing technologies used medically to improve health, such as heart pacemakers and , and as new applications are found to enhance healthy humans.

Dr Gasson says that as the technology behind these implants develops, they become more vulnerable to computer viruses.

"Our research shows that implantable technology has developed to the point where implants are capable of communicating, storing and manipulating data," he said. "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."

Dr Gasson will present his results next month at the IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society in Australia, which he is also chairing.

A high-end (RFID) chip was implanted into Dr Gasson's left hand last year. Less sophisticated RFID technology is used in shop security tags to prevent theft and to identify missing pets.

The chip has allowed him secure access to his University building and his mobile phone. It has also enabled him to be tracked and profiled. Once infected, the chip corrupted the main system used to communicate with it. Should other devices have been connected to the system, the virus would have been passed on.

Dr Gasson said: "By infecting my own implant with a we have demonstrated how advanced these technologies are becoming and also had a glimpse at the problems of tomorrow.

"Much like people with medical implants, after a year of having the implant, I very much feel that it is part of my body. While it is exciting to be the first person to become infected by a in this way, I found it a surprisingly violating experience because the implant is so intimately connected to me but the situation is potentially out of my control.

"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."


Explore further: The ethics of driverless cars

Provided by University of Reading

3.2 /5 (21 votes)

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Isupportpeople
May 27, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Parsec
4.9 / 5 (8) May 27, 2010
I hate being human with a Caucasoid skull. I would rather be a robot than human. Being a biological organism puts limits on me. :-P


Its not so much that I detest being biological, its the side effects that I detest. Like aging, wrinkles, cancer, and death.
Objectivist
5 / 5 (7) May 27, 2010
Its not so much that I detest being biological, its the side effects that I detest. Like aging, wrinkles, cancer, and death.
Then again -- I hear rust isn't so flattering either.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (1) May 27, 2010
People will be forced to become part-machine when commercial [and home-]security becomes so stringent that people will have to either wear implants of be permanently wearing a security/identity tag. We're not that far off - already we're using electronic smart-cards or using fingerprint ID or retina scans. There might be a case for something even more demanding.
finitesolutions
not rated yet May 27, 2010
People will be forced to wear a brain implant that can remotely be instructed to kill the wearer. Instant justice from the authorities.
KronosDeret
5 / 5 (1) May 27, 2010
well, i dreamed of being a cyborg since my childhood, i played shadowrun for seven years and often fantasized about neural implants, heat and dark vision, digital zoom and macro in my eyes, faster reflexes and so on. human control conspiracies doesnt concern me, its bogus.
Qwady
5 / 5 (1) May 27, 2010
Two words: Butlerian Jihad

It's even in the Bible. :)
cisono
not rated yet May 27, 2010
This is no news to me.
It seems that these scientists have never watched "Independence Day"!
dtxx
3 / 5 (2) May 27, 2010
I want to get multiple implants and be the first human host to a botnet.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) May 27, 2010
I hate being human with a Caucasoid skull. I would rather be a robot than human. Being a biological organism puts limits on me. :-P

The only limits upon your biology are those which you cannot overcome with technology.

Wetware is where it will be at.
Quantum_Conundrum
not rated yet May 31, 2010
Two words: Butlerian Jihad

It's even in the Bible. :)


Yes, the Bible speaks of a "mark of the Beast" which is required to do business.

Some interpret this as a "bar code" style tattoo, some interpret it as an actual chip and transmitter implant.

Given the modern technology of printed electronics, it is even possible that both interpretations could be true simultaneously: It could be a "tattoo computer" with a built in transmitter...printed right into the cells and molecules of the hand or forehead...

===

Scary stuff.

Technology isn't a bad thing, but unfortunately people have a habit of finding bad uses for good technologies...
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Jun 01, 2010
Some interpret this as a "bar code" style tattoo, some interpret it as an actual chip and transmitter implant.
And those of us who read the Bible with an objective mind with historical knowledge of the time at which it was written recognize teh "Mark of the Beast" to be the tariff stamp of Nero and the Roman Empire.

Basically John of Patmos was the first TEA partier.