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Friday, May 28, 2010

Man Infects Self With Computer Virus

In England, this past week, Rory Cellan-Jones, reporter with the BBC, reported about a "scientist", Dr. Mark Gasson, who implanted himself with a computer virus. Apparently, this was supposed to be an "ooh, aah" sort of thing. Revolutionary and whatnot. It wasn't, but more on that later.

The response to the article was apparently (and I believe correctly) largely derisive, to the point where yesterday, Mr. Cellan-Jones published a follow-up article. In it, he admits that he "should have adopted a more sceptical tone" in his original piece, but then attempts to justify it anyway. He also contacted Dr. Gasson for a reply to some of the criticism. Dr. Gasson responded that he wanted to bring attention to the need to consider security in medical technology devices.

Now, I agree that security absolutely must be considered as we begin to move towards electronic devices being used as body parts. It would be terrible if, for example, unsecured wireless technology was used to connect the brain to an artificial arm, and someone hacked it and made it beat its owner to death. But Dr. Gasson's experiment isn't anything like that.

What Dr. Gasson did was take some "virus code", put it on an RFID chip, and implant it under his skin. The code was designed to redirect a web browser to a malware site. Dr. Gasson is not a web browser, at least not in the technical sense. And the chip doesn't have the mechanics necessary to make him do anything. It was no more impressive than if he stuck it in his pocket. This "experiment" is sort of analogous to sticking dirt up your nose to see if it will give you a dirty mind. At best, this was more a political point than a science experiment. At worst, it was simple publicity seeking.