Mark Gasson, at the University of Reading, just caught something. A computer virus. Gasson claims to be the first man in the world to become infected with a computer virus.
But by “caught,” we mean he gave the virus to himself, and by “virus,” we mean a program that he designed.
Gasson put the virus in an RFID tag that was then implanted in Gasson’s hand. The tag—like the microchips used to track down missing dogs and cats—had allowed Gasson to open security doors and unlock his cell phone automatically. When infected, the tag spread its virus to other devices, for example, that door-opening system. If other people then used their own hand tags to open the door they could, hypothetically, also catch the virus.
As the BBC reports [video], the test was meant as a “proof of principle.” Gasson wonders, given the increasing use of implanted technologies like pacemakers, if such infections could threaten our cybernetic futures.
But did Gasson really transmit a virus? Couldn’t we as accurately call his test a novel way to share data? Instead of “scientist infected with computer virus,” couldn’t we call him a cyborg bee, pollinating computer flowers? He picked up something and spread it around, in a system he designed for spreading. Instead of a virus meant to cause harm, perhaps we could call it a helpful program… meant to create, well, publicity.
The Register compares the virus to a similar experiment by Kevin Warwick, a self-proclaimed cyborg who implanted an RFID tag in his arm. From the Register article, an interview with Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at the security software company Sophos:
“The way they are presenting their research is scaremongering nonsense that doesn’t present the true nature of this, frankly, non-threat.”
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Image: flickr / VanessaO