Brain hacking: Pentagon eyes mind-control technology | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

The Pentagon’s information warfare experts are warning about brain hacking, a new technology that appears capable of extracting and inserting information into people’s minds. 

It seems the effort to turn humans into X-men is no longer science fiction.

Indeed, an international race is underway to perfect the use of brain-machine interfaces that make people into Professor X-like superhumans capable of controlling devices with their thoughts.

Brain-machine interfaces or BMI, also called brain-computer interfaces, allow for a direct link between a brain’s electrical signals and a device that processes them to complete a task.

China says it has already used the technology to make “mind reading” possible and a pair of U.S.-based scientists have demonstrated the ability to insert false memories into mice. 

“No emerging technology is potentially more important to the military,” Lt. Cdr. Mark Wess, a cryptologic warfare officer, wrote in the May issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s magazine Proceedings. 

Lt. Cdr. Wess envisioned a world where fellow naval officers use the technology to control a battleship’s navigation, weapons and engineering systems and otherwise “make the ship come to life through thought alone.”

China and Russia will be more likely to rapidly adopt the technology for their fighting forces with little concern for the machines’ reversibility and people’s well-being than America, according to Lt. Cdr. Wess. 

He encouraged the U.S. to consider the threat of the new brain tech, particularly if it advances to include a complete mapping of brains so that neurons can be attached to memories. 

“Can a person’s BMI be hacked to extract information from a mind?” Lt. Cdr. Wess wrote. “Could someone be interrogated merely by hooking them up to a BMI?”

Whether the military has answers to these questions is unclear but it is investigating the technology’s potential application. 

After first agreeing to an interview with The Washington Times, Lt. Cdr. Wess called it off citing orders from Defense Department officials.

The U.S. government has studied whether brain tech would be useful as a more effective lie detector than traditional interrogation methods and polygraphs.

The Department of Defense has funded deception detection studies looking at brain activity through neuroimaging, according to Capt. Ayesha Ahmad’s 2021 master’s thesis for the Naval Postgraduate School.

Capt. Ahmad reviewed the military’s previous neuroimaging experiments using electroencephalograms, which measure the brain’s electrical activity. She reported that the U.S. Navy used EEGs to classify deception with a median 95% statistical confidence and an error rate below 1%. 

She proposed a solution to advance the military’s capabilities which she labeled the Warfare Integrated Lie Detection System (WILDS). Capt. Ahmad’s sensors would measure electrical signals within the brain, blood flow to the brain, body temperature, heart rate and other inputs to get the truth out of America’s enemies.

The Pentagon has not made public whether it has plans for Capt. Ahmad’s system.

Shannon Houck, Capt. Ahmad’s thesis adviser at the Naval Postgraduate School, said Capt. Ahmad may be deployed. After agreeing to an interview, Ms. Houck later abruptly declined to talk.

America’s competitors want to produce the brain tech too. China’s Tianjin University and China Electronics Corporation said in 2019 they created a Brain Talker device capable of decoding mental intent through electrical signals.

China Electronics Corporation data scientist Cheng Longlong said the new tech would be used for medical treatment, education, security, and self-discipline, among other things, according to an English-language translation of the May 2019 announcement.

Three days after China touted its new device in 2019, the U.S. Defense Department’s research and development arm published new details of its Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology program. 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program started in 2018 with hopes of making wearable interfaces that could control things such as swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.

Alongside using emerging tech to extract information from someone’s mind and to control external devices, researchers are hard at work understanding how technology may be used to insert knowledge into someone’s brain. 

U.S.-based scientists created a false memory in the mind of a mouse after identifying the brain cells responsible for encoding memories. The scientists used lasers to activate the rodent’s brain cells and implant a false memory, which was hailed as a neuroscience breakthrough by Smithsonian Magazine after the experiment’s results were published 10 years ago. 

Military officers expressed an interest in applying the technology to animals in the short term and humans in the long term. 

Air Force Maj. Mark W. Vahle wrote about the mice experiments in 2019 and said increased investment in brain tech during the next five to 20 years may lead to socially acceptable deployment for things such as “remote animal control.”

“These advances open a range of possibilities for increasing the use of animals in the military,” Maj. Vahle wrote for the Air Command and Staff College. “Military applications include payload delivery, like the attempts during WWII to utilize pigeons and bats to deliver munitions, conduct reconnaissance and search and rescue, and detect explosives.”

Brain-machine interface technology is not limited to combat and espionage.

Modern medicine is anticipating a boost from the new technology. In August, two research teams published results from studies using brain implants and artificially intelligent algorithms to allow paralyzed people to communicate. 

A woman who lost her ability to speak 18 years ago because of a stroke used the brain tech to talk with a replication of her voice through a digital avatar of herself, according to MIT Technology Review. 

To demystify the brain-computer interface and allow people to view its applications, the American Association for the Advancement of Science is hosting an exhibit of the brain tech in its Washington offices through Nov. 15.

The exhibit documents the advancements in brain tech and shows digital art created by paralyzed patients who used a Blackrock Neurotech brain implant and software programs such as Microsoft Paint and Photoshop. 

The AAAS and Blackrock Neurotech display includes a section on future uses of the technology and says that trials are underway for “new areas of function restoration such as hearing and sight” to make the blind see and deaf hear, among other things.

Blackrock Neurotech is working toward “whole-brain data capture” and expects its first product to become available for home use next year. 

Home use does not mean the brain implants will be available off-the-shelf anytime soon, according to AAAS’ Olga Francois. 

“I don’t think the technology is there yet,” Ms. Francois said. “Walking into a Best Buy and [buying an] Oculus is not this.”

Billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk may look to change that. In September, Mr. Musk’s Neuralink began recruiting human patients for testing of its brain-computer interface tech after getting approval to proceed in May from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Neuralink said the initial goal of its first human trial is to give people the ability to move a computer cursor and type on a keyboard using only their thoughts.

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