Brain implants used to treat Parkinson’s disease and depression could be hacked — and used to spy on and control people’s memories, scientists warn in a new report.
An analysis of the implantable pulse generators — or neurostimulators — being used to treat people with these disorders showed they’re potentially vulnerable to “brain jackers,” according to the researchers from the Oxford University Functional Neurosurgery Group and cybersecurity software company Kaspersky.
The devices are implanted in patients’ brains so doctors can help treat movement and neuropsychiatric disorders by remotely sending electrical impulses to stimulate specific parts of their gray matter.
But if the wireless connection is not secure, cyber attackers could access a patient’s personal data, tamper with their device or even seize control of it entirely for the purposes of extortion, the report warns.
“For example, you could manipulate the impulse settings of a neurostimulator implant inside a patient with Parkinson’s disease, effectively paralyzing them for a while,” the report reads.
“Just imagine the consequences if a hacker uses this to immobilize someone driving a car.”
While there have been no known attacks on the brain gadgets so far, the researchers caution that the technology will only become more ubiquitous and powerful in the coming years.
“Within five years, scientists expect to be able to electronically record the brain signals that build memories and then enhance or even rewrite them before putting them back into the brain,” the report reads.
“A decade from now, the first commercial memory boosting implants could appear on the market – and, within 20 years or so, the technology could be advanced enough to allow for extensive control over memories.”
In the future, attackers could use the devices to manipulate people en masse, or to plant or erase memories of a political event, the researchers say.