Run A Scan And Call Me In The Morning


by Tim Moran

I'm not sure what to make of this one. Is it a ploy to get some publicity? Is the guy maybe just a little dotty? Is there an outside chance that the boffin is really on to something?

An article by John E. Dunn over at Techworld--"Human-computer virus experiment ridiculed as 'bad science'" -- tells of Reading University researcher Dr. Mark Gasson, who claims to be the first human to be infected with a computer virus.

It seems Gasson deliberately infected a chip with a virus. He then had the chip implanted in his hand and transmitted it [the virus] to a PC to prove that malware can move between human and computer.

Dunn points out that: "For reasons that probably have as much to do with publicity as hard science, Gasson set out to prove the principle of human-machine virus transmission by infecting an RFID chip which was then implanted in his hand. The virus, used to pass through security doors, was able to transmit this infected code to another chip outside his body."

One of the main reasons Dunn and others think this little scheme is strictly for publicity is that it really didn't have to be done to be understood. Writes Dunn: "The problem is that what Gasson has demonstrated is obvious and probably requires no proof-of-concept. Technology implanted in humans is no less vulnerable than the same technology not implanted in humans."

Malware expert Graham Cluley, of Sophos, was even harder on Gasson and the school, suggesting that what Gasson did was less a contribution to computer security than "a full-proof method of ensuring that university staff don't forget their office door pass in the morning. . . . Predictions of pacemakers and cochlear implants being hit by virus infections is the very worst kind of scaremongering."

It also turns out that this is not the first such "experiment" at Reading U. Back in 1999, Professor Kevin Warwick had chips implanted in this right forearm to handle such tricky tasks as turning on lights. Gasson's in good company. I'm just wondering if the virus he implanted was a Trojan.