DNA sequencing programs
vulnerable to cyber attack
Everyone knows the importance of practising good cybersecurity, but we bet you never thought your computer could be hacked using DNA.
that is scientifically fascinating though arguably not the first thing an adversary
analysed the security hygiene of common, open-source DNA processing
DNA is, at its heart, a system that encodes information in sequences of
programs, which can be used to reveal everything from one’s ancestry to fitness
nucleotides. Through trial and error, the team found a way to include executable
levels to microorganisms that live in your gut. Unfortunately, the only thing
code — similar to computer worms that occasionally wreak havoc on the
the researchers found was a proliferation of poor computer security practices.
internet — in synthetic DNA strands.
esearchers from the University of Washington (UW) recently
The researchers even went so far as to demonstrate a hacking technique might attempt — using biological molecules to infect a computer through normal DNA processing.
The team discovered known security gaps in many open-source software
To create optimal conditions for an adversary, they introduced a known
programs used to analyse DNA sequencing data. Some were written in unsafe
security vulnerability into a software program that’s used to analyse and search
languages known to be vulnerable to attacks, in part because they were first
for patterns in the raw files that emerge from DNA sequencing. When that
crafted by small research groups who likely weren’t expecting much, if any,
particular DNA strand is processed, the malicious exploit can gain control of
adversarial pressure. But as the cost of DNA sequencing has plummeted over
the computer that’s running the program — potentially allowing the adversary
the last decade, open-source programs have been adopted more widely in
to look at personal information, alter test results or even peer into a company’s
medical- and consumer-focused applications.
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LAB+LIFE SCIENTIST - Oct/Nov 2017 | 47