New thought-reading devices could hack into the human brain

The idea of hacking into someone's mind has mainly been reserved to science fiction, with the cyberpunk genre and movies like Inception and The Matrix. However, with brain wave-reading technology — electroencephalography or EEG — working its way into everyday devices, such as game controllers and even bio-controlled cat ears that move and react to your emotions, we could be opening ourselves up to that kind of attack.

Mario Frank, who researches machine learning and information security at University of California, Berkeley, believes that it is a definite possibility.

"The experiments have demonstrated that an attacker with access to the raw EEG signal can guess secrets of the end-user significantly better compared with random guessing. This means that, once this technology is used by more people and once there are more apps written by third-party developers, there is the chance that malicious software attacks the user's privacy," Frank wrote in an email exchange with Huffington Post.

Frank was one of several researchers to give a talk at this year's USENIX Security Symposium, which discussed the feasibility of such attacks.

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The group specifically looked at a commercially-available technology, Emotiv's EPOC neuroheadset, and in one particular study found that by analyzing the signals they received from the headset with a special signal processing computer program, they could get private data from their subjects that was between 15-40 per cent more accurate than simply guessing at it. That's not a whole lot better, but this is just the beginning.

Of course, there are many beneficial uses for this technology, but if it is going to creep more and more into our everyday devices, I'm glad that people like Mario Frank and his colleagues are giving some thought to the security of our minds.

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