Scaremongering scientist claims to have infected himself with computer virus

Filed Under: Malware

RFID chip
A British scientist at the University of Reading is claiming to be the first human to be "infected with a computer virus".

According to a report on BBC News, Dr Mark Gasson, a senior research fellow working at the university's Cybernetic Intelligence Research Group, implanted an RFID chip containing what he claimed to be virus code into his hand.

You can see Dr Gasson describing what he has done in this video report by BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones:

Well done to Dr Gasson for getting some media exposure for his department, but this really is shonky research in my opinion.

Yes, you could put software code on an RFID chip that you could put in your body (or your cat, as some Dutch researchers theorised in rather hysterical fashion back in 2006) but so what?

The fact is that that code would not be read until an RFID reader came into contact with the affected RFID chip and even then the software connected with the RFID reader would need to have a vulnerability that would allow the code to be run.

Aside from the problematic issues involved with how hackers would infect the RFID chips in the first place I think that's a pretty unlikely series of events.

Frankly, I've got more chance of being flattened by a falling grand piano than I have of getting my dog virus-infected next time I take him to the vets.

The University of Reading's Cybernetic Intelligence Research Group has a long history of capturing the media's attention with stories of their staff implanting RFID chips inside themselves (Some journalists even regularly refer to the group's leading light, Professor Kevin Warwick, as "Captain Cyborg" for his attention-seeking activities) but the fact remains that it makes no difference if an RFID chip is implanted under your skin or stitched into the lining of your jacket.

The only reason that they inject a chip into themselves - like "chipping" your pet cat - is because it guarantees them more interest from the press. Oh, and so they don't have to remember their door pass when they get into the office in the morning.

In other words, we haven't really learnt anything.

Reading University may be pleased with the media attention they've brought themselves, but I think they'd done a poor job as far as the public are concerned - 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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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.