The idea of someone else being able to alter, or even control, what you perceive is a terrifying one, as is the idea of technology turning against you. Researchers at the University of New Haven has combined these frightening possibilities with a proof-of-concept detailing how virtual reality (VR) could be controlled to alter what you see and hear.
When immersed in a VR experience, what you see and hear is controlled by the software, and it is common for users to become so caught up in the scenario that they forget the real world entirely. Researchers suggest this is part of the danger, as there is little to stop a malicious coder from changing what you see.
Modern VR systems such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive come with guardian systems to try and ensure users don’t injure themselves running into walls, but what if those safeguards are removed?
The team at University of New Haven discovered that they could alter what a person saw in VR on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Ibrahim Baggili, director of the university’s Cyber Forensics Research and Education Group (Unhcfreg), and the paper’s co-author, Peter Gromkowski said that there were no protections in place to prevent this sort of attack.
The researchers infected a computer with custom malware attached to an email as part of a test to see what protections VR had on a PC with compromised security, experimenting to see if HTC Vive and Oculus Rift could protect users if other security measures failed. “It was created with little security in mind, and they’re completely relying on the security of the operating system and the user,” Baggili said.
Oculus said it disagrees with the findings of the researchers on the vulnerabilities of VR. Oculus have said that the company regularly invites researchers to participate in its bug bounty program, and points out that the research was conducted without considering other Pc protections, such as anti-virus software.
“Guardian settings are not vulnerable unless your machine is compromised, in which case, every app and file on your computer is also susceptible,” said an Oculus spokesperson.
For further news on research into VR, keep checking back with VRFocus.