At the recent Kaspersky APAC summit, I had the opportunity to speak with Rainer Bock and Hannes Sjoblad about biohacking and the future of this technology.
Before you think Biohacking is a long complicated thing you don’t want to be associated with, I’ll ask you to think again, or rather, let me break it down for you. Googling the definition of Biohacking can yield a wide variety of results from hacking into a person’s DNA to altering a person’s diet with a high metabolic rate, so that he or she can put on weight. But, these weren’t the points of conversation at the Kaspersky APAC summit held in Malaysia, in the third week of November 2015. What we are talking about here, is the ability to put an NFC enabled chip in a person. The chip is the size of a grain of rice and can store information you would otherwise carry physically with you, like your business card. You can’t store a lot of information on this chip. It can house approximately 880 bytes of data on it.
If you are wondering how the information on the NFC chip implant works and how secure it is, Hannes Sjoblad said, “You can’t keep the information on the chip a secret because other people can read it. You must be aware of this. You don’t put the secret code to your safe where you have all your jewelry. You shouldn’t put it here but I say the kind of information you put on the implant is the kind of information you’d put on your t-shirt and walk down the street. Then you don’t really care if someone reads it." So Yes, it is clear that the data stored on this NFC chip isn’t secure. There is no encryption on it. Having said that, no one can simply come and touch a phone to the user’s hand and steal their data. At the event we tried it. The phone needs to be held close to the chip for roughly 10 seconds and touch the skin of the person with the implant.
Hannes Sjoblad said that he has replaced a lot of everyday things with the chip. He no longer carries his gym membership card, which is required to enter the gym. Rather, the data is stored on the chip in his left hand and he punches in using his fist – no pun intended here. Similarly, he doesn’t carry a business card anymore. The information is stored on the chip and just like you’d scan a business card to save the data on your phone, you can access it directly by simply tapping your phone onto the person’s hands where the implant is placed.
The use case scenarios for this kind of technology are limitless but the implementation is still some time away, in humans at least. We have seen similar chips implanted in animals. At the event Kaspersky quoted an example of a pet that has the chip implanted in it. When the pet approaches the trap door to exit the house, the chip and the lock sensor in the door communicate and the door opens for the pet. This not only secures the house from strange animals (since the door will remain locked till it is manually opened or the pet with the chip approaches it) but it also helps the owner of the pet, who doesn’t have to open the door for the animal every time.
When it comes to implanting the chip in humans, security threats are plentiful. Talking about medical implants like a pacemaker being hacked, Rainer Bock said, “We have seen a number of hacks of medical implants. I was thinking about that today and I haven’t seen any big news about that for a while now but 2 or 3 years ago there was news coming up all the time. Like with every technology, every technology can be hacked. There is no secure technology. With pacemakers nobody ever thought about the idea of somebody wanting to hack a pacemaker so nobody thought about how you would make that technology secure. That’s the difference now. We now know, everybody knows everything can be hacked be it a fridge or an implanted chip or a pacemaker. I think the awareness is far higher and if you look at what we are doing here now, Hannes and Kaspersky working together is because we are aware of the fact and we can both work together for making this chip secure. If we get these chips secure, then we can get pacemakers secure.”
Hannes Sjoblad said, “We have been putting artificial objects in humans for a long time like pacemakers, or hearing aids. We have been putting chip implants in animals for many years, but what is happening now is that people are putting technologies in their bodies who are healthy. This is a new step. It’s not just a tattoo for aesthetic purposes but a smart function technology inside your skin. Why we biohackers think this is interesting because it’s a very useful platform. We want to explore it because we don’t know what it can be used for. There are probably a lot of things we didn’t think about yet”.
So yes, even though the idea of implanting chips in our bodies is tempting, we still aren’t there yet from a security standpoint. Nonetheless, the video below will give you a glimpse at the process of implanting an NFC enabled chip, the size of a grain of rice, in a person.
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