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Brain Malware : An Extraordinary Threat Requires An Extraordinary Response

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Brain Malware! Yes you read it right. Imagine yourself being exposed completely in front of everyone you love and hate; every known and unknown; every friend and foe. Imagine your entire thought process is laid bare naked in front of you including your deepest secrets like sexual orientation and preferences, your likes and dislikes, your lies and truths and every other thought buried deep inside your mind which you would want to take along yourself to your grave. Dreadful! Isn’t it? We are not talking about any futuristic sci-fi movie but a next gen technology to sneak into your brain and capture your thoughts. It is emerging as grave privacy concern and experts are demanding a privacy and security framework to secure our thoughts and personal information before it takes final shape and is used at large in the consumer market.

Brain Malware Explained

Before you start making far-fetched assumptions, let me tell you the malware won’t be planted inside your brain but just like any other malware your gadgets and devices would be infected with it. The science behind the technology can be explained as follows:

  • The fundamental crux of this technology is the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI); a device that can capture and is controlled by Brain Signals such as EEG (electroencephalography).
  • These devices have already been launched in the market and presently are being used in medical and non medical applications especially gaming.
  • University of Washington Biorobotics Lab has demonstrated how Brain-Computer Interface coupled with subliminal video game messaging can be used to extract private information of an individual.
  • The Brain-Computer Interface in its present is a device which looks like a shower cap but is laced with electrodes.
  • Upon wearing the device on your head, the electrodes start capturing your brain activity by sensing changes in your Brain signals.
  • Every peak or low in your Brain signal can reveal something about you.
  • Now, suppose you are playing a video game or working on an app which requires you to use BCI
  • The hackers can insert a malware (being called as Brain Malware) in your game or the app which prompts images for nanoseconds or below the subliminal threshold of human mind.
  • These images can be of any politician, religious icons, sexual images of men and women, food outlets, different banks etc
  • You can see the images but before you can generate a calibrated response they disappear.
  • Unknown to you, your mind subconsciously generates a response to each of these images.
  • This response would be your natural response devoid of any conditioning or adulteration and it would be reflected in the peak or low of your Brain Signals which are being mapped by BCI
  • In different words this malware would prompt a response from your brain by prompting an image on your device’s screen for nano-seconds. Your every liking, disliking or indifference towards every image prompted would be mapped by BCI.

brain malware

The problem does not lie with the app or the video game but the BCI device. Infact the apps or video games require use of BCI for improving user experience or making it go hands-free. The real issue lies in the fact that every Brain Signal emitted by you would contain much more information than what is actually required by the app or the game and to exploit that information the hackers would infect your device with such malware. The stolen information can be used against you in different ways; manipulation, coercion and embarrassment. The criminals can even ask for a ransom. It would tantamount to planting a Ransomware on your brain. Not only cyber criminals but anyone who wants to sneak into your mind can use this technique. The government and police infamous for surveillance these days can make use such a technology and undermine your rights under Fourth Amendment. In fact it can bring a cultural and technological shift in the ways surveys are conducted. Which survey company wouldn’t love the technology which gives them huge chunk of data about an individual which they can readily sell in the market and make millions?

Extraordinary Threats Require Extraordinary Response

The threat to our privacy has never been this much stronger before. An extraordinary threat of such magnitude would require an extraordinary safety response at technical and policy levels.

Technical Level Response:

  • The researchers at University of Washington have suggested the concept of “BCI Anonymizer”. It would effectively “filter” signals so that apps could only access the specific data they require. The researchers further explain BCI Anonymizer as “Unintended information leakage is prevented by never transmitting and never storing raw neural signals and any signal components that are not explicitly needed for the purpose of BCI communication and control”.
  • Secondly, the security professionals need to improve device protection so as to provide foolproof security. Since anti-virus are obsolete, it would require a game changer innovation in End Point Security which forms the latest trend in device protection. A dedicated anti- brain malware security paradigm needs to be developed for foolproof protection.

Policy Level Response:

  • At policy level, the privacy policy of Apps would require an upgrade to secure personal information.
  • Further, every government would need to set rules and regulations for inclusion of effective BCI Anonymizer in the device.
  • The technical standards for Anonymizer would also need to be set. Since manufacturing is not localized these days therefore these standards would require global recognition for inter-country acceptance. This would also require talks at WTO with a special clause under “Technical Barriers to Trade“.

The threat is real and its grave. The entire security community including the government needs to proactively start a debate on Brain Malware so as to nip it in the bud.

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