Scientist Implants 'PC Virus' on Self

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The headlines immediately grabbed my attention: Man Infects Himself With Computer Virus, Scientist Infected by PC Virus, Human Carries Computer Virus in Implant for the First Time, Scientist Implants Virus-Infected Chip In Himself. Sounds like something you'd read in a few years. But these are headlines that dominated news sites in the last 24 hours.

RFID For DummiesRFID’s, fondly nicknamed ‘arphids’ by many a geek, have been used for several years now as a means of tracking stuff. The most common example I’ve seen is tracking inventory as it is delivered from warehouse to store. I’ve also seen them on CD’s in music stores and in clothes stores. When you go to the cashier to pay for your purchases, they take the RFID’s off. Security scanners near the door of the store bleat when one is taken out of the store premises. Useful :-)

Well, British scientist Dr. Mark Gasson has an RFID chip on his arm. RFID implants aren't new. Researchers have experimenting on ways to make these chips useful for the last 2 decades at least. Implants like these have so far been limited to storing information like medical histories on Medical Alert bracelets that emergency medical teams can use when patients are unconscious. They have also been used to store information about the person's identity, like in the case of passports. In the case of Dr. Gasson's research, he's using it as a swipe badge, allowing him entry to certain portions of their labs in the University of Reading. Although this isn't new (see this article from 2005 on a man who used a similar implant to unlock secured doors: http://www.theinternetpatrol.com/washington-man-has-hand-implanted-with-rfid-uses-hand-to-unlock-door/), Gasson took it further by implanting a benign virus in the implant. The virus replicated itself when it came in contact with scanning devices and again on RFID's that were scanned by these 'infected' devices.

RFID SecurityAs with other hacks associated with RFID's, this isn't astoundingly new. But the headlines sure do get your attention. With news like these grabbing headlines, I hope lawmakers and governments think twice about requiring RFID's in passports, vehicle identification and other sorts of tracking schemes. If there's anything to be gleamed from this experiment, it's that RFID's need to be made even more secure before they are even considered useful to confirm the legitimacy of identities.

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