Kaspersky Lab Researchers Shows the Existing & Future Possibilities of Brain Hacking For Memory Manipulation& Theft

CEO Insights Team

CEO Insights Team

A decade from now, the neurology scientists are looking forward to commercially availing memory boosting & even replacing implants. While we move towards such an advanced ‘brain science, Kaspersky Labs, a global cybersecurity company, exposes in its latest research the vulnerability en route.

According to Kaspersky, the new-gen Cyber attackers are capable of exploiting the memory implants to steal, spy on, alter or control human memories.Scientists are learning how memories are created in the brain and can be targeted, restored and enhanced using such implantable devices. According to a new report by researchers from the Lab and the University of Oxford Fucntional Neurosurgery Group, these vulnerabilities exist in the connected software &hardware, and need to be addressed if we are to be ready for the threats that lie ahead.

We need to bring together healthcare professionals, the cybersecurity industry, and manufacturers to investigate and mitigate all potential vulnerabilities, both the ones we see today and the ones that will emerge in the coming years.

The researchers in their study combined practical & theoretical analysis to explore the current vulnerabilities in implanted devices used for deep brain stimulation. These devices send electrical impulses to specific targets in brain for treatment of disorders such as Parkinson’s, essential tremor, major depressions and obsessive compulsive disorders.The latest generation of these implants comes with management software for both clinicians and patients, installed on commercial-grade tablets and smartphones. The connection between them is based on the standard Bluetooth protocol.

Dmitry Galov, Junior Security Researcher, Global Research & Analysis Team, Kaspersky Lab says, “Current vulnerabilities matter because the technology that exists today is the foundation for what will exist in the future. Although no attacks targeting neurostimulators have been observed in the wild, points of weakness exist that will not be hard to exploit. We need to bring together healthcare professionals, the cybersecurity industry, and manufacturers to investigate and mitigate all potential vulnerabilities, both the ones we see today and the ones that will emerge in the coming years.”
The study recognized many serious vulnerability and several worrying misconfigurations including the one in an online management platform popular with surgical teams that could lead an attacker to sensitive data & treatment procedures.

The other existing and potential risk scenariosinclude:

• Insecure or unencrypted data transfer between the implant, the programming software, and any associated networks could enable malicious tampering of a patient’s or even of whole groups of implants (and patients) connected to the same infrastructure. Manipulation could result in changed settings causing pain, paralysis or the theft of private and confidential personal data.
• Design constraints as patient safety takes precedence over security. For example a medical implant needs to be controlled by physicians in emergency situations, including when a patient is rushed into a hospital far from their home. This precludes use of any password that isn’t widely known among clinicians. Further, it means that by default such implants need to be fitted with software ‘backdoor’.
• Insecure behavior by medical staff – programmers with patient-critical software were found being left with default passwords, used to browse the internet or with additional apps downloaded onto them.
Laurie Pycroft, doctoral researcher in the University of Oxford Functional Neurosurgery Group added, “Memory implants are a real and exciting prospect, offering significant healthcare benefits. The prospect of being able to alter and enhance our memories with electrodes may sound like fiction, but it is based on solid science the foundations of which already exist today. Memory prostheses are only a question of time. Collaborating to understand and address emerging risks and vulnerabilities, and doing so while this technology is still relatively new, will pay off in the future.”

The study concludes with providing greater insights into the future up to the next 20 years. The findings says that 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. 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.

New threats resulting from this could include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts; while ‘repurposed’ cyber threats could target new opportunities for cyberespionage or the theft, deletion or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).