A British scientist has laid claim to being the first man to be infected by a computer virus, after he used a contaminated chip implanted in his hand to attack a lab security system.
Dr Mark Gasson,a British scientist, programmed the microchip, similar to those used to "tag" pets, to remotely open his lab's security doors and unlock his mobile phone before having it inserted under his skin.He also infected the implant with a virus, to prove that it could be transferred as the chip and the security system wirelessly exchanged electronic data.
The virus could then have been passed on to other devices interacting with the control system, such as colleagues' swipe cards, in the same way viruses are able to spread across computer networks.
The results raise the possibility that in the future, increasingly advanced medical devices such as pacemakers, inner ear implants, and other medical devices could become vulnerable to cyber attacks from other human implants.
Dr Gasson said: "Our research shows that implantable technology has developed to the point where implants are capable of communicating, storing and manipulating data.
"This means that, like mainstream computers, they can be infected by viruses and the technology will need to keep pace with this so that implants, including medical devices, can be safely used in the future.”
He stressed it is not currently thought possible to exploit medical devices such as pacemakers because they have not been analysed for flaws, but said they could theoretically be vulnerable.
He said: "We do not know of any medical device that can be exploited in this way yet but we are very much on the cusp of it being possible.
"It is possible that you could create a virus that completely corrupts the device to the point where it does not work any more."
Implanted technology has become increasingly common in the United States, where medical alert bracelets can be scanned to bring up a patient's medical history.
Dr Gasson said the technology is likely to become more widely used in the future, even for non-medical purposes such as increasing someone's memory.
He said: “Our next evolutionary step may well mean that we all become part machine as we look to enhance ourselves, either because it becomes as much of a social norm as say mobile phones, or because we’ll be disadvantaged if we do not.”