' Fiona Gaul | MTTLR

Physical Touch in a Virtual World

Virtual reality is more lifelike than ever before — not only can users see and hear the virtual world, but they can now feel and smell it too. Two major industries embracing this technology are gaming and mental health treatment. In both fields, the ability for users to immerse themselves in the experience furthers the ultimate goal of the experience: engaging with the game on a first-person level or benefiting from personalized, interactive therapy. In gaming, a 360-degree view of the virtual world adds to the sense of suspended reality and provides a more entertaining experience. In mental health therapy, virtual reality is used as immersive therapy for certain phobias, PTSD, and dementia. Despite the potential benefits for entertainment and therapy, virtual reality is ripe for abuse. Developers decide what images and experiences the virtual worlds will contain and dictate how users can interact within these worlds. One female gamer wrote about being virtually groped, after another gamer suggestively motioned toward her. The woman was wearing a VR helmet, and did not feel physical contact, but she still saw and heard the other person. Of the experience, she wrote, “Of course, you’re not physically being touched, just like you’re not actually one hundred feet off the ground, but it’s still scary as hell.” This is likely to become an even greater problem as more gamers wear full body suits that will allow them to feel the virtual world and interact physically with other gamers. Without any regulations guaranteeing consumer protections, this kind of sexual abuse in the world of virtual reality could also extend to mental health therapy. Much...

Hacking Your Heart: The Danger of Cloud-Connected Medical Devices

Connecting everyday devices to the cloud has become commonplace—one can brew coffee, turn on the lights, and heat a room using an app on their smartphone. And now, doctors can update and monitor data collected by medical devices implanted in a patient’s body through a similar connection. The benefit of this advancement is easy to observe: remote updates to the device’s software allow for personalized treatment without surgery. It is convenient for both the patient and the doctor. But with this comes a downside. Hackers can use unsecured wireless connections to hack into implanted devices. These devices can then be individually manipulated—insulin pumps can be programmed to send an excess amount of medication; pacemakers to send an extra shock to the heart. These devices can also be a gateway to infiltrate entire medical systems. Once inside the network, hackers have the ability to install ransomware like WannaCry to a hospital’s database or steal the healthcare data of all patients in the computer system. The medical industry is aware of this problem. The FDA has offered guidance to mitigate it and even offered an Action Plan to medical device companies. White hat hackers make vulnerabilities known and display malfunctions at conferences. Hollywood has even caught on and incorporated a pacemaker assassination hack into an episode of Homeland. Discretion over how to handle potential hacks, however, still falls to medical device companies. This is problematic as companies may choose not to tell patients about bugs or update devices even after hacks are discovered. In 2016, Johnson & Johnson chose to disclose a security vulnerability in its insulin pump system that could...