Will future hackers target brains instead of networks?
It seems like the future is already here: brain implants, chips, and embedded computers are dominating conversations, with companies like Neuralink and BrainGate introducing devices allowing to control limbs and even external systems. But how dangerous is this development, and does it mean that hackers will soon target peoples’ brains?
Neuralink - a neurotechnology company founded by Elon Musk and others - has announced that it’s about to begin its clinical trials in humans. The first product will allow a paralyzed person to effectively use a smartphone - and type with their mind faster than using thumbs.
This technological progress is expected to have exciting results, being somewhat similar to replacing faulty/missing neurons with circuits, according to Musk.
“I think we have a chance with Neuralink to restore full-body functionality to someone who has a spinal cord injury. Neuralink’s working well in monkeys, and we’re actually doing just a lot of testing and just confirming that it’s very safe and reliable and the Neuralink device can be removed safely,” Musk said, the Guardian reports.
Another technology known as BrainGate (originally developed by Brown University and bio-tech company Cyberkinetics) is an implanted sensor that connects the human mind to computers. It also aims to help paralyzed people and those with physical disabilities.
However, we can imagine this technology going much further and becoming a part of everyday life in the seemingly sci-fi but nonetheless realistic future. If driving a car, shopping online, and even sending messages will become a fully wireless activity, what will it mean for the future of technology?
For Musk, the future of BMIs (brain-machine interfaces) looks promising, with the ability to replay memories and even download them into different bodies. Ultimately, it will allow humans to merge with artificial intelligence.
"With a high bandwidth brain machine interface, we can go along for the ride and effectively have the option of merging with AI," Musk suggested, according to BBC.
New challenges to cybersecurity
The introduction of this technology poses some serious cybersecurity questions, such as, is brain hacking even possible - or will it become possible in the future?
In simpler scenarios, threat actors could manipulate a person into writing checks, revealing personal information voluntarily, or provoke accidents and demand a ransom for restoring memory. In more serious scenarios, hackers could order voters who to vote for and even infiltrate the minds of the military and politicians, thus controlling both the political and social lives of their victims.
So far, there seems to be little focus on security in the development of Neuralink, which leaves pundits worried.
“Hackers are usually one step ahead of security protocols, so it's not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ they will attack a Neuralink-type device,” Jason Lau writes in Forbes.