The budding field of brain-machine interfaces promises a science-fictional future where games, computer operating systems, and prosthetics can be controlled with thought alone. But a new study shows that connecting minds to machines could let sensitive private information leak out along with those mental commands.
At the Usenix security conference in Seattle last week, a group of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley, Oxford University and the University of Geneva presented a paper (PDF here) that hints at the darker side of a future where brain sensors are used to let thoughts manipulate computers as fluidly as a mouse. In a study of 28 subjects wearing brain-machine interface devices built by companies like Neurosky and Emotiv and marketed to consumers for gaming and attention exercises, the researchers found they were able to extract hints directly from the electrical signals of the test subjects’ brains that partially revealed private information like the location of their homes, faces they recognized and even their credit card PINs.
“These devices have access to your raw EEG [electroencephalography, or electrical brain signal] data, and that contains certain neurological phenomena triggered by subconscious activities,” says Ivan Martinovic, a member of the faculty in the department of computer science at Oxford.
Read the researchers’ full paper below.