Innovation Watch: Can your body be hacked?

It’s currently possible for hackers to intercept wireless signals and disrupt pacemakers, for potentially fatal results. We look at the cyber security engineers working to make your body unhackable – and picture a world where even the human body can be hijacked.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: researchers have spent the last decade demonstrating that it’s possible for someone to hack into your body. If you have a pacemaker or insulin pump someone could hack into it and possibly kill you by intercepting and disrupting the wireless singles they rely on.

The better news is that this hasn’t happened yet. And the best news is that engineers at Purdue University have figured out how to tighten the security on your body – thanks to tech that keeps those signals within your body and stops it from leaving.

But the story doesn’t end there – not as far as we’re concerned! The reason we mentioned pacemakers and insulin pumps above is because medical tech has designed them to be monitored without the need for invasive surgery. Reducing the need for surgery is a fantastic goal but as more and more technology is connected to our bodies the risk of tampering will only grow.

Once we’ve broken down the final barrier and found a way to control computers with our brains we’re going to see a world where people with spinal injuries can control wheelchairs with their thoughts. We’re also going to see a new way to hack into people.

This might all sound like we’re predicting our own Cyberpunk version of The Matrix. We’re not quite going that far just yet, but it’s hard to deny the risks. The problems don’t even have to be malicious. Back in 2016 a lawsuit targeted Fitbit’s heart rate tracking for being misleading to the be point of being dangerous.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see an unscrupulous company to manipulate that sort of data. (We’re already assuming Fitbit’s tracking was innocently inaccurate!) Imagine a situation where a protein supplement brand teams up with a fitness tracker. On the surface the two companies promote a healthy lifestyle and a diet rich in protein but secretly the fitness tracker also manipulates your data to show you need more protein in your diet. They it helpfully suggests its protein supplement protein supplement partner to help you fix that issue. Dastardly!

That’s a (relatively) harmless, if massively unethical, way to abuse the data from our bodies. Imagine if someone was to really abuse it on a wider scale? If one thing is for sure: our future idea of cyber security has to include more than our laptops and phones. It has to include our physical bodies too.