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Can snoopers hack your brain?

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BrainGate 2, www.braingate2.org

The human brain is not immune to hackers.

So says Ivan Martinovic, a computer scientist at the University of Oxford who is exploring whether brain wave-reading technology can covertly obtain the secret information we store in our heads.

His tool? A $300 video game controller.

For this study, Martinovic, along with researchers from California and Switzerland, developed a program that interfaces with an electroencephalograph (EEG) device identical to the ones that are marketed for gaming and entertainment. But instead of controlling a character on a screen, participants' brain wave activity was imaged and analyzed as they were shown pictures of numbers, names, logos and people.

Researchers looked for what's called a P300 response, a very distinct brain wave pattern that occurs when one relates to or recognizes something. It would occur, for instance, if you were to look at a picture of your mother, or see your Social Security number written out.

While this technology doesn't allow someone else to actively go in and search around in our brains, it's definitely a step in that direction. But for this method to yield any valuable information, many conditions need to be exactly right.

If the subject in question knew the hacker's motives, were suspicious, scared or simply chose to not think about the subject at hand, gleaning anything useful from the brain wave data would be difficult, if not impossible. The technology is definitely not a brute-force method of extracting information, but could be a useful tool in the hands of a great social engineer.

The efficacy is still very murky, though. ExtremeTech reports that the 28-subject test yielded useful information 10 to 40 percent of the time. That's not the most reliable success rate, but it's much quicker and closer than trying to simply guess a 16-digit credit card number or home address.

This is just the start of what is sure to be an immense amount of research into the application of mind-reading by way of brain-computer interface technology. This brings us one step closer to unraveling the mysteries of the human mind and our endless fascination with all things telepathy and mind control.

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