Something to Sneeze at: Scientist Catches Computer Virus

By Joseph Calamia | May 26, 2010 11:24 am

computer-virusMark 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 , 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.”

Related content:
80beats: Mystery of the Conficker Worm Continues: Does It Want to Scam or Spam?
80beats: Computer Virus Travels Into Orbit, Lands on the Space Station
80beats: Sorry, Australian iPhone Users: You’ve Been Rickrolled

Image: flickr / VanessaO

  • Carney Wilson

    It seems to me that the quote from Cluley should be at the top of this article.

  • gribley

    Idiocy and showmanship masquerading as real science. He no more become infected with a computer virus than I would by duct-taping a floppy to my leg. Surely there is real computer science that researchers should be spending their effort on.

  • Jagular


    “He picked up something and spread it around…”

    Just like syphilis.

    I love me a good conspiracy theory and this is excellent material. 1984 is just around the corner…

    However, I think at least we are a long way off from someone hacking our pacemaker. Our computerized, net-able, automobiles though, THAT’S more of an immediate concern for hacking… someone locks your doors, cuts your breaks, floors the gas pedal and after your dead from the 110 mph impact, they wipe any evidence of tampering, all remotely. Awesome.

  • Brother Rolf

    Yea this is just scaremongering. These are the same people who think an oil well deep in the Gulf could blow up causing an unprecedented catastrophe.

  • houses loved

    what would lead the reader in that direction. Cruel scoop,


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.

See More

Collapse bottom bar