Mind Hacking Used to Predict Behavior

Dennis Faas's picture

A team of international researchers is currently exploring the possibility that someone could "hack" a person's brain. For now, such a process would require technology that is difficult to obtain.

The study is related to Electroencephalography (EEG) technology, which is a way of measuring brain activity. EEG was originally developed to diagnose neurological problems.

For many years, EEG technology has been extremely expensive and therefore limited to professional medical use. However, today the cost has come down to the point where it can be used in other ways, for other purposes.

This includes use within "tracking control systems" that allow people to "issue commands" through their thoughts.

It also includes special neuroheadsets that allow video game players to control game action without physical movements. These are currently available for as little as $299. (Source: emotiv.com)

Now, researchers at Oxford University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Geneva have begun exploring the potential risks of EEG technology.

The scientists have carried out a series of experiments based on the idea that any computer system could be manipulated through malicious software or rogue applications, which they have termed "side channel attacks".

Familiar Images Trigger Brain Response

The experiments involved showing participants a series of images for 0.25 seconds and then tracking their brain response.

In the first test, a series of bank logos were displayed to see if brain activity increased when the person's own bank appeared. This test failed, most likely because the logos are displayed so widely that people recognized all of them.

However, a second experiment involved bank cards and ATMs. This one proved more successful.

The researchers also carried out tests designed to see if participants recognized faces and locations.

The data retrieved has allowed the researchers to correctly guess a person's thoughts in 30 per cent of all cases. What's more, the researchers believe that repeating the sequence of images would drastically improve their accuracy.

More Sophisticated 'Brain Scan' Attacks Could Develop

Researchers believe it will be many years before criminals have the ability to exploit these technologies. Still, it's a threat they believe is worth recognizing.

For example, they suggest hackers could distribute bogus copies of a video game that displayed brief images of four digit numbers. Hackers could then note when a player reacted, and surmise it was because their correct PIN code was shown.

According to the scientists who performed the study, the "simplicity of our experiments suggests the possibility of more sophisticated attacks." (Source: usenix.org)

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