[Cyborg] Securing Our Minds: The Need For Brainwave Tech Standards Against Hacking

linkreincarnate linkreincarnate at gmail.com
Mon Sep 17 20:02:37 UTC 2012

Found this interesting and relevant.

Sent to you by linkreincarnate via Google Reader: Securing Our Minds:
The Need For Brainwave Tech Standards Against Hacking via TechCrunch by
Ariel Garten on 9/15/12

Editor’s note: Ariel Garten is the co-founder and CEO of InteraXon, a
Toronto-based company that builds brainwave-enabled products and
applications. In her work as a neuroscientist and entrepreneur, Ariel’s
insights into how the human mind works are creating new ways for
society to interact with the world – and ourselves – using the power of
our brains. Follow her on Twitter: @ariel_garten.

Last month, researchers from UC Berkeley, Oxford, and University of
Geneva posted results of a joint research study suggesting hackers
could hijack a brainwave-reading headset and attempt to uncover
sensitive user information – think PINs and bank information.

As a long-time member of the Brainwave-computer Interface (or BCI)
community, I’d like to shed some light on the study and make an ask of
the industry. But first, I want to clear up two important pieces of

1. Brainwave-computer interface technology cannot actually read your

What you’re thinking right this moment is not decipherable by any
computer today. What is possible is the ability to pick up alpha and
beta brainwaves. These waves identify when you’re relaxed or when
you’re thinking actively, and then they infer things, such as your
state of mind or how alert or excited you are. It allows you to control
things by transmitting and translating those signals into computable
actions. It also picks up random spikes, or what are called P300
brainwaves, that come up just after something familiar has been shown
to you.

In the case of the study, the researchers were able to see these spikes
after the person was shown familiar information, e.g. neighborhood, PIN
or credit card image. This doesn’t give a malicious hacker your
information. It could, though, give them enough to piece together how
to steal your information, which is why this study should not be
ignored. But assuming a hacker could know what you’re thinking or that
the technology itself is intelligent enough to read your mind is still
science fiction.

2. Brain hacking isn’t as easy as the study made it out to be

A lot of conditions have to be in place for your brain to actually be
“hacked.” The tests uncovering the potential security flaw were
constructed showing participants familiar information that, if
identified, could cause their personal data to be hacked. They each
wore a headset and were presented with images corresponding with
information hackers would find valuable.

But if you actually look at what’s being developed by BCI companies
today, the vast majority are in gaming. How bizarre would it be to
randomly come across your bank’s logo while playing Angry Birds with
your mind? Would you really be thinking about your PIN while using a
brainwave headset to relax? And remember, you’d have to be shown the
exact number on a screen for a hacker to detect it could be hack-worthy

This is a lot harder than it appears. Unless a game has you point to
your PINs or identify your bank’s name, the likelihood of your
information getting hacked while wearing the device is pretty slim.

Looking back at the study, they were only able to show 15 percent
improvement in guessing one digit of a person’s PIN at a time. (Note:
This is after researchers had already secured the correct answer from
participants beforehand.) To acquire an entire PIN using this method,
you’d have to guess one digit at a time in the right order, which
dramatically reduces the chances of a hacker being successful.

Despite the study’s loopholes, the hysteria arising from it does
highlight a real need for our industry to sort out self-regulation and
governing of security and ethical measures in a big way.

The Case For A Center For Brainwave Ethics

The brainwave technology industry has made huge research and
development breakthroughs in past decades. Consumer technology and
medical tools have been created to benefit our daily lives. Without
self-regulation, though, the industry could be at risk of potentially
halting years of innovation and stunting growth in this field.

For this reason, we at Interaxon are proposing the creation of an
industry-led International Center for Brainwave Ethics — a place for
the industry to establish security standards and a code of ethics,
develop global initiatives, and provide ongoing communications with
consumers, developers, decision-makers, government bodies, and
businesses on how best to protect brainwave information.

We’ve watched cloning research and development come to a screeching
halt when the government began regulating activity. The community had
not united to ensure safety and establish standards from the get-go.

Similarly, governments and the Internet industry are battling it out
over who controls rights with the introduction of SOPA. In this case,
their industry is well beyond the point of uniting.

It’s reasonable for us to assume the government will eventually step in
to regulate brainwave technology, but who knows how and when this will
happen. This brings me back to why a joint international initiative is
so critical now when the industry is still forming.

Having an effective and credible industry-organized group in place will
ensure we have a voice in how our industry moves forward. If we do not
work to educate, guide, and regulate our work, we become an easy target
for hyperbolic hysteria as the “hacking” study headlines have shown.

InteraXon is aiming to create the International Center for Brainwave
Ethics for Fall 2012. We’d like to invite other members of the BCI
industry and brainwave technology research community to come together,
now, at one of the more critical milestones.

If you are interested in getting involved, please email me at
ariel at interaxon.ca.

[Image: InteraXon]

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