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Hackers Induce Epileptic Seizure Like 'Press Enter'

Hackers used JavaScript code and flashing computer animation left in an epilepsy support message board to induce migraine headaches and seizures in users.

The incident is being described as the first computer attack to deliberately harm the human users of computers. The message was posted on Saturday, March 22nd.

The first message contained a script that posted hundreds of messages with flashing gif images. Then, JavaScript was used to redirect users to a more complex image designed to induce seizures in both photosensitive and pattern-sensitive epileptics.

"We are seeing people affected," says Ken Lowenberg, senior director of web and print publishing at the Epilepsy Foundation. "It's fortunately only a handful. It's possible that people are just not reporting yet -- people affected by it may not be coming back to the forum so fast."

A similar kind of effect occurred accidentally during an episode of the original Pokemon anime, aired on December 16, 1997. During one sequence, Pikachu stops some vaccine missiles with its Thunderbolt attack; the resulting explosion was done with a technique called "paki paki." Bright strobe lights blinked at 12 Hz fullscreen for several seconds.

Thousands of viewers reported a wide variety of symptoms: nausea, headaches, blurred vision, seizures and convulsions. Doctors found that only a very small number were actually children with photo-sensitive epilepsy.


(Press Enter, by John Varley)

As far as I know, the first person to suggest that a computer display could be hacked to induce seizures in epileptics is John Varley. In his award-winning 1984 story Press Enter, a sinister AI does just that:

... then the screen started to flicker. I stared at it for a while. It seemed to me that there was an image trying to form on the screen. Something three-dimensional. Just as I was starting to get a picture of it I happened to glance at Lisa, and she was looking at me. Her face was flickering. She came to me and put her hands over my eyes.

"Victor, you shouldn't look at that..."
(Read more about Display-Induced Epileptic Seizure)

Via Hackers Assault Epilepsy Patients via Computer.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/30/2008)

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