20/08/2012 09:26 BST | Updated 20/08/2012 09:29 BST

Brain-Hacking: How Sensitive Information Can Be Extracted From Your Mind

As if criminals being able to extract sensitive information from our computers and smartphones wasn’t enough of a worry, now scientists have shown that it is possible for our own brains to be hacked.

It sounds like a notion from a science fiction film, but researchers from the universities of Oxford, California and Geneva have proved it can be done using a commercially available brain-control interface (BCI).

These devices, such as the Emotiv, pictured below, which cost around £150 to £250, read brain signals through sensors that rest on the head.


Mind out: BCIs could reveal your secrets

They have become quite popular with gamers, allowing them to issue commands just by thinking them.

But the researchers, at the recent Usenix Security convention in Bellevue, Washington State, used a BCI to show that such technology could be used to achieve more sinister goals.

They managed to coax volunteers into giving away information such as PIN numbers and their addresses by showing them certain visual stimuli and then looking for tell-tale signals from the brain transmitted by the BCI.

What they were looking for was a brain signal known in the neurophysiological world as a P300.

You transmit one of these 'tells' when you’re shown something that has some sort of significance in your life.

The researchers concluded, after tests with 28 volunteers, that their brain attacks had a success rate of between 15 and 40%.

They wrote: “This upcoming technology could be turned against users to reveal their private and secret information.”