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Hackers who read your brain to steal your passwords!

September 11, 2017 7:36 AM

I still remember the school days when we used to attend computer lab classes. The protocol was very strict e.g. no shoes inside the lab, handle with care, very sensitive Operating System and what not. Computers in early 80s were no less than a holy relic. But we have come a long way since then and Windows played a pivotal role in making this super machine popular and accessible to everyone, not just programmers, coders or scientists but anyone and everyone could now use computers in their day to day lives. With Microsoft office the unexpected happened, all offices felt the need to use computers and replace the labor-intensive typewriter with the much adaptive and multipurpose machine “the computer!”

But as any technology grows so do the chances of its misuse accelerate, making it vulnerable and prone to being disrupted by exposing its defenseless aspects. And the same stands true for computer related technologies, which are prone to being attacked by viruses or hacked for misuse e.g. to retrieve classified information of organizations or individuals.

Today computer related verticals are experiencing a sort of fast paced evolution, and with technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning gaining momentum one can only imagine that the day when computers can think like humans is really not a distant dream restricted to a Hollywood science fiction movie. But it is a reality today, and it is happening right now.

As technology around us is advancing what is a smart Hacker thinking? This is a very relative question in the current ecosystem of technology. Given the fast pace of our adoption of new ideas and their implementation using new and trending technologies, makes it imperative on part of any responsible technocrat to ensure that we take all precautionary measures to avoid a technological apocalypse. Because a Hacker, like any genuine programmer is constantly thinking and evolving his/her technology stack at the same pace, maybe even faster as they do not adhere with any protocol!

Recently few Researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham concluded that hackers could guess a user's password by monitoring their brainwaves. Surprised? Please don’t be because it is possible!

There are many EEG headsets available in the market allowing users to use only their brains to control Robotic toys or Video games specifically designed to be played using EEG headsets - Electroencephalograph headsets also known as Brainwave sensing headsets -  Now here is when it gets interesting, Researchers found that an individual playing the game or using the interface , if he/she  paused a video game and logged into a bank account while he/she was wearing an EEG headset, put him/her at the risk of his/her  sensitive data being stolen by a malicious software program.

New technologies aiding the super sleek performance of many emerging devices/gadgets open immense opportunities for everyday users. But at the same time they raise substantial security and privacy threats as many companies invest largely in developing more advanced brain to computer interface technology.

Every human being follows a particular pattern while doing or executing something and the brain retains this information, which is related with Electronic Waves leaving a print on the EEG device. It is this pattern of Electronic Waves that can be decoded by a hacker to help him/her guess the password to your bank account.

Let us consider this scenario, which was actually tested and verified by the researchers at University of Alabama Birmingham.

Tested and proven case study:

 After a user had entered 200 characters, algorithms embedded within the malicious software program were capable of making cultivated guesses about new characters the user entered by mapping the EEG data feed or patterns. The algorithm increased the probabilities of a hacker's guessing a four-digit numerical PIN from one in 10,000 to one in 20. Not only this it also increased the chance of his/her predicting a six-letter password from about 500,000 to roughly one in 500. This is what a brain reading hacker is capable of achieving!

Now it is on part of the EEG device manufacturers to take all these scenarios into consideration while working on securing the ecosystem of the device. One quick fix recommended by the researches was the insertion of noise every time a user types a password or PIN while he she is still wearing an EEG headset. The noise tends to disrupt the actual wave pattern and would leave a false or pseudo print on the patterns which hackers investigate while attempting to decode the passwords.

Here is my conclusion. “If hackers can read our brains to decode our secrets we too have the technological advantage to read the brain of a Hacker. Provided we have the will and the companies feel the moral obligation to ensure data is safe and fortified within the highest security parameters, which are rigorously tested.