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Your body is your internet -- and now it can't be hacked

Someone could hack into your pacemaker or insulin pump and potentially kill you, just by intercepting and analyzing wireless signals. This hasn't happened in real life yet, but researchers have been demonstrating for at least a decade that it's possible.

Before the first crime happens, Purdue University engineers have tightened security on the "internet of body." Now, the network you didn't know you had is only accessible by you and your devices, thanks to technology that keeps communication signals within the body itself.

The work appears in the journal Scientific Reports. Study authors include Shreyas Sen, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue, and his students, Debayan Das, Shovan Maity and Baibhab Chatterjee.

"We're connecting more and more devices to the human body network, from smart watches and fitness trackers to head-mounted virtual reality displays," said Sen, who specializes in sensing and communication systems.

"The challenge has not only been keeping this communication within the body so that no one can intercept it, but also getting higher bandwidth and less battery consumption," he said.

The First Computer Virtual and Augmented Reality Headset – The ‘Ultimate Display’ Concept and the Sword of Damocles. If we could name one person as the father of Virtual and Augmented Reality headsets as we know them today, it would without a doubt be Ivan Sutherland. In the 1960s, he described the concept of the ‘Ultimate Display’ that would be able to stimulate reality to a point that the viewer would not be able to tell the difference between the virtual and the real world. His concept included a head-mounted display with 3D sound and tactile feedback, a computer that would create and maintain the virtual world through this device and the ability of a user to interact with objects from the virtual world in a realistic manner. Sutherland later created the first VR/AR head-mounted display, which was connected to a computer and not a camera, known as the Sword of Damocles. However, the contraption he made was too heavy for a person to wear comfortably on their head, so the device had to be suspended from the ceiling. Furthermore, the computer generated graphics were too primitive with wireframe rooms and objects.

Body fluids carry electrical signals very well. So far, so-called "body area networks" have used Bluetooth technology to send signals on and around the body. These electromagnetic waves can be picked up within at least a 10-meter radius of a person.

Sen's team has demonstrated a way for human body communication to occur more securely -- not going beyond a centimeter off the skin and using 100 times less energy than traditional Bluetooth communication.

This is possible through a device that couples signals in the electro-quasistatic range, which is much lower on the electromagnetic spectrum. Sen's group is working with government and industry to incorporate this device into a dust-sized integrated circuit.

A YouTube video is available at

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Through a prototype watch, a person can receive a signal from anywhere on the body, from the ears all the way down to the toes. The thickness of your skin or hair also doesn't really make a difference in how well you carry the signal, Sen says.

The idea would be to create a way for doctors to reprogram medical devices without invasive surgery. The technology would also help streamline the advent of closed-loop bioelectronic medicine -- in which wearable or implantable medical devices function as drugs, but without the side effects -- and high-speed brain imaging for neuroscience applications.

Major Brands Are Investing in VR. About 75 percent of the Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands have created some form of virtual reality or augmented reality experience for customers or employees, or are themselves developing these technologies. Given that this study was conducted in October 2015, the number is likely significantly higher.

"We show for the first time a physical understanding of the security properties of human body communication to enable a covert body area network, so that no one can snoop important information," Sen said.

Augmented reality system lets doctors see under patients' skin without the scalpel: New technology lets clinicians see patients' internal anatomy displayed right on the body.
Augmented reality system lets doctors see under patients' skin without the scalpel: New technology lets clinicians see patients' internal anatomy displayed right on the body.
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Ramin assadollahi
Ramin assadollahi