We’ve all watched our fair share of Sci-Fi movies where people use the most ingenious of methods to hack into systems. From introducing a “cold” in the 1996 blockbuster “Independence Day”, to the explosive systems in Die Hard 4.0, fiction certainly has had the upper hand on truth.
What if you could use DNA to hack into a system?
A group of researchers from the University of Washington have predicted that one day, a virus may infect systems via DNA. The researchers are working on this theory at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and explain that it would be possible to incorporate malware into a genetic molecule or strand of DNA and then proceed to get it to infect a system that is used to analyze it.
Who would be the target of these attacks?
Well, that would be essentially any university computer network, forensic laboratories (such as police and even private) along with research facilities. The virus could be inserted into synthetic blood or saliva samples and then used to infect the systems.
In a paper submitted by the researchers, they explain how once DNA is sequenced, it is processed by numerous computer programs through a data processing pipeline. The programs used for this pipeline are open-source and are also lacking in certain computer security practices, thus making them vulnerable to attack. They then questioned themselves on the possibility of producing DNA strands containing malware that once sequenced and analyzed would be able to hack into a system.
They then included a security vulnerability in a DNA processing application and proceeded to design a synthetic DNA strand containing said malicious code. As soon as the processing application came into contact with the strand the malware launched into action, giving full control of the system to the team.
There’s no need to worry, yet
They however claim that there is no need for immediate concern as they possess no evidence that the security of DNA sequencing or DNA data is under attack. They do however emphasize that systems that use these DNA sequencing applications should be patched and all security loopholes identified and fixed in order to prevent the possibility of any future attacks.
It certainly does make you question all you know about computers. I for one am intrigued and worried at the same time. Is this really what the future holds for us? While this will not have any effect on genetic testing, it is vital that systems of these nature have their security amped up to keep them safe from possible threats.