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Cybersecurity Researchers Implant Malware Into DNA Strand

Wednesday 16 August 2017

US researchers embed malware into DNA, in order to hack DNA sequencing software. But it won’t be a threat for a while to come.

Cybersecurity researchers at the University of Washington have been able to infect a computer with malware coded into a strand of DNA.

While the experts believe bio-malware is not a likely threat vector at the moment, it could be in the years ahead.

This is because security protocols surrounding DNA transcription and analysis “can be inadequate, and vulnerabilities have been discovered in the open-source software used in labs around the world.”

The researchers point out that there has been rapid improvement in the cost and time necessary to sequence and analyse DNA.

For example, in the past ten years the cost to sequence a human genome has decreased 100,000 fold or more, the researchers said.

This performance increase has been achieved thanks to parallel processing, and has resulted in a raft of new DNA services being offered to the general public, such as personalised medicine, ancestry research, and even the study of the microorganisms that live in a person’s gut.

Of course, computers are needed to process, analyse, and store the billions of DNA bases that can be sequenced from a single DNA sample.

And where there is a computer, there is a security risk.

The researchers in their study found that DNA sequencers (scientific instrument used to automate the DNA sequencing process) often fail to follow best practices in computer security, and the researchers were therefore able to encode malware in DNA sequences.

“After DNA is sequenced, it is usually processed and analysed by a number of computer programs through what is called the DNA data processing pipeline,” wrote the researchers.


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