A British scientist has become the first man in the world to become infected with a computer virus, highlighting the growing concerns researchers have about the security risks of Web-connected medical devices.
Mark Gasson, a scientist from the University of Reading, said he has been “contaminated” after a virus infected a small radio-frequency identification, or RFID, chip that had been previously implanted in his left hand.
The virus added code to the chip and then replicated itself into other connected devices, underscoring an issue that could have potentially devastating results for medical devices of the future, particularly for wireless pacemakers, defibrillators and cochlear implants.
“If someone can get online access to your implant, it could be serious,” Gasson said. “It is possible that you could create a virus that completely corrupts the device to the point where it does not work any more.”
The device in Gasson’s hand, which is a sophisticated version of ID chips used to tag pets, was part of an experiment that allowed him to wirelessly activate mobile phones and pass through security doors. Scientists have been developing a host of new implantable devices that can communicate with computers outside the body, even for non-medical purposes such as increasing someone’s memory.
“In the future, someone who is carrying an infected medical device could feasibly infect someone else,” Gasson said. “Technology will need to keep pace with this so that implants, including medical devices, can be safely used in the future.”
Gasson, who works at the University of Reading’s School of Systems Engineering, will present his findings at the International Symposium for Technology and Society in Australia next month.