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In Star Trek Generations, Geordi is captured by Soron and briefly interrogated. The real aim of Soron was to plant a bug in his visor, so that when he was returned to the Enterprise, he would act as an unwitting spy.

It strikes me as strange that he would be returned to active duty without any sort of check up or scan to pick up this kind of trojan horse. This seems like a major security flaw. Is that visor running windows or something?

So are there any documented security protocols for returning crew members (particularly if returning from being interrogated), but this just couldn't be detected? Or did the chief of security just completely drop the ball?

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If I were to be seeking to establish responsibility, I would look to the chief of security to have considered the highly unlikely possibility Geordi's visor could be hacked, since his visor can interface with the ship's computer system.

The Federation does seem slightly more vulnerable to hacking than would seem likely, possibly because their computers are so sophisticated, they may be dependent upon highly specialized crew to be able to determine if changes have been made to the computers. These specialists may or may not be regulars on a starship's crew.

Given the failsafes and capabilities of Federation computers, I can understand how such an oversight could have occurred:

  • The computers of the Federation are highly capable, nearly self-aware AI systems. It would be the tiny place between AI and not AI where a virus would have to be inserted.
  • Such computers should have multiple levels of security and redundancy to protect them from unauthorized tampering.
  • Geordi's visor was perfect for hacking because it is not directly connected to a more secure system and was not routinely security scanned.
  • Considering how little access his visor needed from the main computer systems, it was likely overlooked as an unlikely vector for serious hacking.

Considering the rarity of the device in the Federation, and the overall lack of familiarity with Geordi's visor, even by the ship's medical crew, any physical changes in the device or editing of its internal software might not be easily detected.

However, if the bug were a physical device, it had to escape being recognized by the transporter scanner systems, (which should notice any major physical discrepancy between when Geordi left and when he returned) so it makes sense if the "bug" were a software package instead of hardware.

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    Given the fact that it had already happened at least once before when Geordi was captured by the Romulans and brainwashed, I would have expected them to implement some kind of security measures on the visor already. That's one of the things that really bugged me about that movie. – BBlake Jul 18 '12 at 12:17
  • @BBlake See my answer and the link to zero-day exploits - different bugs could allow the same type of result. – Izkata Jul 18 '12 at 22:35
  • @BBlake Actually, come to think of it, could anyone else see what Geordi saw in Mind's Eye, as described in the question for Generations? They seem like entirely different exploits anyway - one was a signal sent to the VISOR, the other was passively broadcasting what the VISOR sent to Geordi's brain without modifying it... – Izkata Jul 18 '12 at 22:40
  • @Izkata If Starfleet (or, at least, the Enterprise) were to have reacted to the first VISOR hacking incident, it probably would have been to implement some sort of Trusted Computing platform or other means of software integrity verification upon return from an away mission. Any exploit against the VISOR after that point would be very hard-pressed to avoid detection through such measures. – Iszi Jul 25 '12 at 2:20
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The VISOR is, above all else, a medical device. We've seen several episodes where Geordi goes to Dr. Crusher for help with the device. She also gives him his regular maintenance on it.

There's a couple of things to take from that:

  • In general, checking medical devices for tampering (especially by way of hacking) doesn't often come up. Are you regularly running a virus scan on your pacemaker?
    • Is a virus on your pacemaker even possible? Well, we don't know yet. We will once it happens. This is called a zero-day attack/exploit. There generally are no protections against it, because no one knew it was a problem.
  • Even if it was a physical modification, the transporters wouldn't necessarily have found it a problem and alerted about it. They weren't designed that way, and had to have the specific pathogen/material programmed in ahead of time.
    • Even if they did, the transporter may have difficulty distinguishing between something intentionally changed - like a modified tricorder - versus something that was tampered with.

In any case, Geordi did do something about it later on: He got ocular implants.

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    While I've not seen any news of viruses for pacemakers, it's not at all inconceivable. There have been a few proof-of-concept cases in recent history, of hackers remotely manipulating wireless medical devices. Also, I'm not sure how we can really expect ocular implants to be any less vulnerable than a VISOR. – Iszi Jul 18 '12 at 3:06
  • @Iszi I did a quick Google search for something like "pacemaker virus" before including that note and only saw a snarky forum post. The one proof-of-concept I found didn't even involve pacemakers. – Izkata Jul 18 '12 at 3:26
  • @Iszi As for the ocular implants, yes, they didn't have the nodes on the sides of his head that the Romulans used - so they are at least more secure. While more of a mind-hack than a VISOR-hack, it is something that was only possible because he had a VISOR. – Izkata Jul 18 '12 at 3:27
  • The idea of medical devices being hacked is definitely something that at least some people are worried about. See youtube.com/watch?v=5XDTQLa3NjE – MatrixFrog Dec 9 '12 at 7:42
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I'd say the system designers blew it. Three times!

  1. Why in this space-time would the shield modulation be displayed that prominent and open if it's a stupid value that is fairly static and does not influence the generall function of the shields? (Apparently they work the same no matter the modulation.)

  2. If the modulation is that critical when fighting as part of the hightest alarm level the modulation needs to rotate fast! Despite fighting, it seems to be a generic flaw in the shield technology that there is actually a hole and a spectrum where energy may pass through. Just to protect ship and crew such technology needs to be implemented redundantly to have a secondary shield that covers (at least) what the primary shields let through.

  3. Let aside any disussion on the visor itself, especially since we don't know the precice attack to tap into Geordy's vision. A continous misterious datastream starting the moment Geordy gets back must show up on any network security system AND in hostile environments all misterious communication needs to be silenced anyway ... radio silence ...

So the chief of security can only be held responsible for at most one of the three things that went terribly wrong.

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  • Rotating shield modulations later becomes standard practice - when fighting the Borg, who routinely adjust their weapons to match the modulation of any shields they encounter. Actually, it's surprising that the Klingons or the Romulans never tried that trick. However, you have to leave a gap in the shields somewhere. Why? Because otherwise they keep your own weapons and sensors in... – Matthew Walton Jul 19 '12 at 6:14
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    If the correlation between shields and own weapons is that strong it is even more surprising that the shield modulations don't rotate continuously because with each shot fired you'd give away your shield modulations which is of course disasterous, as demonstrated in (for example) Generarions. Also, the question why there is only one shield phalanx that covers the entire ship becomes even more depressing when knowing that you HAVE TO LEAVE A GAPING HOLE. – user1129682 Jul 20 '12 at 5:14
  • Indeed, unfortunately Star Trek is not known for having thought all these things through to their logical conclusions. Maybe the big innovation with the Borg is not the adaptation but their ability to read the frequencies of weapons which are hitting them and feed that straight back into their own shields. – Matthew Walton Jul 25 '12 at 12:10

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