Brain implants used to treat Parkinson’s can be hacked and used to control people, scientists warn

Brain implants used to treat Parkinson’s can be hacked and used to control people, scientists warn

Natasha Bernal | The Telegraph | Source URL

Brain implants used to treat Parkinson’s disease could be hacked by cyber attackers and used to control people, scientists have claimed.

A report by the Oxford Functional Neurosurgery Group and cyber security company Kaspersky claims that people’s memories could be exploited by hackers and has called on cyber security companies, manufacturers and healthcare companies to develop new technology to stop them.

Academics have previously warned that brain implants could prevent patients from “speaking or moving, cause irreversible damage to their brain, or even worse, be life-threatening”. They claimed that hackers could overload or disable the system, and could damage people’s brains. 

Implantable pulse generators are used to treat patients with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor or major depression and have Bluetooth-enabled software for clinicians and patients to monitor through a smartphone or tablet. 

This new report claims that hackers could use the wireless communication to intercept data transmitted, including patients’ personal details and could take over the device itself. 

“Manipulation could result in changed settings causing pain, paralysis or the theft of private and confidential personal data,” scientists said. 

The report has claimed that hackers could manipulate people through implanted or erased memories in the coming decades, or hold their memories to ransom. Although there have been no examples of cyber criminals hacking these devices, technological advances in the coming years would mean they are not hard to exploit, researchers said.

Laurie Pycroft, doctoral researcher in the University of Oxford Functional Neurosurgery Group, said: “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.”

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