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Scientist infects himself with computer virus

U.K. engineer becomes the first person in the world to be infected (intentionally) by a computer virus via a chip inserted into his hand.

A senior research fellow in the U.K. says he has become the first person in the world to be infected by a computer virus.

Technically, the chip Mark Gasson inserted into his hand is infected, which one could argue keeps the virus limited to the domain of the chip even though it lives inside the man.

Mark Gasson University of Reading

But Gasson, of the University of Reading's School of Systems Engineering, suggests this argument is immaterial because he is demonstrating that increasingly sophisticated medical implants will become vulnerable to computer viruses. Which means that those implants that are vital to a human's health and survival could, if corrupted, compromise the health--and potentially the survival--of the carrier.

"Our research shows that implantable technology has developed to the point where implants are capable of communicating, storing, and manipulating data," Gasson said in a news report. "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."

The chip Gasson implanted into his left hand in 2009 is a high-end radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag similar to those implanted in pets, and it enables him to access his cell phone and his university building as well as be tracked and profiled. When he infected the chip with a virus, it corrupted the communication system, and could have easily spread to other implants had any been connected to this system.

"Much like people with medical implants, after a year of having the implant, I very much feel that it is part of my body," said Gasson, who can be seen rubbing the surface of his hand affectionately in the BBC interview below. "While it is exciting to be the first person to become infected by a computer virus in this way, I found it a surprisingly violating experience because the implant is so intimately connected to me but the situation is potentially out of my control."

Gasson goes on to suggest that computer implants could be used beyond the medical realm to include "cosmetic" uses such as enhancing one's memory or IQ. The potential for such devices to be compromised makes the not-yet-digital hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention.