Your Brain Has Been Hacked!

Illustration by Sam Hundley


I’m thinking of a number between one and ten…

Up until now, the best you could do is guess my thoughts. But today, with inexpensive headsets commonly used for video games and hands-free keyboards, it may be possible to hack my brain to get to that number, or to find out my address, or even to track down my bank PIN number.

A group of scientists presenting at the 2012 Usenix Security conference conducted a variety of experiments on 28 participants to see if they could use Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs)–hardware increasingly used in consumer products like video games–to uncover private information. With participants outfitted in BCI headsets, the researchers were able to analyze electrical signals in the subjects’ brains to come up with educated guesses regarding participant credit card numbers, PIN numbers, addresses and other otherwise “private” information. While the hacking didn’t necessarily result in perfect information, it was far more effective than random guesses. The scientists found that “the entropy of the private information is decreased on the average by approximately 15% to 40% compared to random guessing attacks.”

Let’s hope that in the future not all video games will become personal space invaders.

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Human Journey

Meet the Author
Since 2005, Michael has been a librarian at National Geographic.