Mind readers

Participant testing a brainwave-reading headsetPhoto courtesy the researchersVulcans and Legilimens may no longer have a monopoly on mind-reading capabilities. Working with colleagues from Oxford and the University of Geneva, researchers from Berkeley were able to infer sensitive information—such as credit card PINs, birth months and home locations—from participants wearing brainwave-reading headsets that are typically used for hands-free gaming. In the study, the test subjects were shown images and numbers on a computer screen. The researchers, working with computer science professor Dawn Song, measured the participants’ brain signals, including their P300 response, an electrical spike in brainwaves that occurs about 300 milliseconds after recognition of a stimulus. The results indicated when the subjects had viewed something familiar, enabling scientists to discern the desired information. The study, “On the Feasibility of Side-Channel Attacks with Brain Computer Interfaces,” is the first significant investigation about the security risks in the use of consumer-grade headsets.


Reach the editors at berkeleyengineer@berkeley.edu