Thursday, May 27, 2010

Scientist says he’s first human with a computer virus - Blogs - Yahoo! Canada Tech

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"Scientist says he’s first human with a computer virus"
By Christopher Null

Let the hysteria begin: Computer viruses have apparently made the leap from PC to person, BBC News reports.

Mind you, this was all intentional. British scientist Mark Gasson of the University of Reading introduced a computer virus into an RFID chip (similar to the chips implanted in pets to identify them if they go missing) and then implanted the infected chip into his own hand.

In its uninfected state, Gasson's chip lets him pass through secured doorways and turn on his cell phone, so it has practical real-world capabilities.

An infected chip could pass malicious code on to chip scanners as, say, the bearer passes through a security door. The virus could then spread to other systems in the network, depending on the complexity and cleverness of its programming.

Right now this is just a proof of concept, but it’s a sobering one in a world where 'touchless' networking systems like RFID are becoming more and more commonplace, while the security of these systems has been largely ignored.

Recently issued passports, which include an RFID chip now by default, have already been subject to extensive hacking attempts — and numerous hacking successes. Some people even suggest whacking your passport with a hammer to disable the RFID chip inside. (We don't endorse this, however.)

What happens when you have an actual RFID implant? BBC News notes that these chips are becoming popular receptacles for medical information, so if a person is unconscious, medical responders can still determine if someone has a critical allergy or a rare condition that a hospital might need to be aware of. What happens if a virus scrambles or even reverses this information?

The issue of viruses moving from computer to human may not be the nightmare that Hollywood makes it out to be — but the threat is becoming more real than we might like to believe.

— Christopher Null is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.