Man infects himself with (computer) virus

Sarah Jacobsson, PC World

We are one step closer to the future: a British scientist has become the first human being to contract a computer virus.

Yep, you heard that right. Dr. Mark Gasson, a cybernetics expert at the University of Reading, deliberately infected himself (by way of an RFID chip implanted in his wrist) with a benign computer virus. This was part of an experiment designed to show how implantable bionic devices are susceptible to computer viruses.

The device in Gasson's arm is an RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip that emits a signal and allows him to access certain parts of the University of Reading laboratory, as well as operate his cell phone. In other words, the chip functions as an internal swipe-card.

Gasson and his colleagues then created a virus for the chip. They put it on the chip and Gasson went into the lab--and when the lab's computers read the code, the virus implanted itself into the database and began to replicate. Now if any of his other colleagues swipe their traditional swipe-cards to get into the lab, the virus can replicate itself on their swipe-cards.

This experiment shows that viruses can be transferred wirelessly from implant devices to the computers they communicate with. Someone could thus potentially create a virus that would allow them to access secure areas (such as the University of Reading laboratory).

This is not the first instance of an RFID system being hacked--but it is the first time that the hacked RFID chip was inside a human being.

Now, while a computer virus in Gasson's arm won't affect his health--that's not the case for a lot of other people with bionic implants. People with pacemakers, cochlear implants (for the hearing-impaired), and deep brain stimulators (for neurological conditions), for example, could be in big trouble if a virus infected their implanted devices.

"I don’t think for us that (infectious technological agents) would be a particularly new concept, but implants in our bodies will make it a lot more real," Gasson told TechNewsDaily, "A denial-of-service attack on a pacemaker, if such a thing were possible, would of course be very detrimental."

In the future, bionic implants may not only be for cool scientists like Gasson or people with medical conditions--people may eventually use implants to improve brain function, memory, and IQ.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2010 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.

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