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Berkeley Scientists Successfully ‘Hack’ Brain To Obtain Private Data

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An Emotiv EPOC neuroheadset. (Emotiv)

An Emotiv EPOC neuroheadset. (Emotiv)

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BERKELEY (CBS SF) – It sounds like something out of the movie “Johnny Mnemonic,” but scientists have successfully been able to “hack” a brain with a device that’s easily available on the open market.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Oxford and the University of Geneva figured out a way to pluck sensitive information from a person’s head, such as PIN numbers and bank information.

The scientists took an off-the-shelf Emotiv brain-computer interface, a device that costs around $299, which allows users to interact with their computers by thought.

The scientists then sat their subjects in front of a computer screen and showed them images of banks, people, and PIN numbers. They then tracked the readings coming off of the brain, specifically the P300 signal.

The P300 signal is typically given off when a person recognizes something meaningful, such as someone or something they interact with on a regular basis.

Scientists that conducted the experiment found they could reduce the randomness of the images by 15 to 40 percent, giving them a better chance of guessing the correct answer.

Another interesting facet about the experiments is how the P300 signal could be read for lie detection.

In the paper the scientists released, they state that “the P300 can be used as a discriminative feature in detecting whether or not the relevant information is stored in the subject’s memory.

“For this reason, a GKT based on the P300 has a promising use within interrogation protocols that enable detection of potential criminal details held by the suspect,” the researchers said.

However, scientists say this way of lie detection is “vulnerable to specific countermeasures,” but not as many compared to a traditional lie detector.

This could only be the beginning of a new form of fraud. Scientists say that a person with their guard lowered could be “easily engaged into ‘mind games’ that camouflage the interrogation of the user and make them more cooperative.”

Also, much like other household electronics, “the ever increasing quality of devices, success rates of attacks will likely improve.”

 

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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