Biohackers sequence computer malware right into the strands of DNA

By William Gayde ยท 6 replies
Aug 10, 2017
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  1. DNA is like the hard drive for you body. Everything about who you are is stored in its endless spiraling strands. Recently there have been two key areas of research for scientists: sequencing the DNA to understand the role it plays in human development and synthesizing DNA to try to create life or edit out diseases.

    When doing this, scientists must have the utmost care since even a single error can create infectious diseases or kill the organism. Bio-security researchers from the University of Washington, however, are looking at DNA from a completely different perspective. Rather than storing data designed to infect animals, they have experimented with storing real computer malware.

    In an interview with Wired, the researchers described their process for infecting the computers doing the actual gene sequencing. The attack works similar to storing malware on a USB drive that is designed to infect a computer that reads it. The bio-malware is encoded into the physical strands of DNA so that when the sequencer analyzes it, the resulting data becomes an actual malicious file.

    The researchers point out that while the attack is currently far from viable, it is still a worrisome proof-of-concept. As DNA sequencing companies like 23andMe become more popular, this opens up the threat of hackers stealing the private medical information of millions of people.

    Another potential fear is that hackers could submit malicious DNA to law enforcement agencies and potentially alter DNA evidence from a crime.

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  2. EEatGDL

    EEatGDL TS Evangelist Posts: 577   +252

    "Another potential fear is that hackers could submit malicious DNA to law enforcement agencies and potentially alter DNA evidence from a crime."

    How could a hacker actually be able to do that? They work with a different set of tools and equipment from what these scientists/genetists(?) work with. This seems like a very "tin foil hat" thought.
    mcborge likes this.
  3. mcborge

    mcborge TS Guru Posts: 457   +324

    Agreed... Would work in a hollywood script but working in the real world, that is very unlikely to happen.
  4. branhama

    branhama TS Rookie

    What kind of company would provide funding for something like this? In the future I see DNA manipulation to be something common for humans to have done. What should happen if this altered DNA ends up in a person?

    Great job there guys, thanks for laying down the ground work for another potential infection. What next is McAfee going to develop an DNA anti-virus/malware application to inject which costs an obscene amount?
  5. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,922   +2,281

    Everything in this article seems too far-fetched, on the border of insane and science fiction. I wouldn't take it seriously.
  6. Hexic

    Hexic TS Maniac Posts: 362   +199

    DARPA, CIA, MI6, Mossad, and every other intelligence agency with black sites and budgets requiring higher clearance then I've ever witnessed.
  7. enemys

    enemys TS Maniac Posts: 166   +144

    Anyone seriously caring about cybersecurity. It's not "if we don't do it, noone will try that, so let's just pretend it doesn't exist". It's more like "we found a new way to attack, now we can tighten up the security to prevent doing it in a real-life scenario". Because if something can be turned into a hacking tool, it will be. It's beter if white hats (researchers, "good guys") find out about it before the black hats ("bad guys") do. Of course if someone finds a tool like that and keeps it secret, sooner or later it will be stolen and used for crime (that's why it's important to share the info) and of course publishing info about a vulnerability means some attacks will be performed succesfully before everyone patches up their environment, but that isn't something you can really prevent.

    That being said, I agree that the article seems to far-fetched. It's only a proof-of-concept for a highly specialized attack and the vulnerability in sequencing software/hardware probably can and will be patched.

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