We use to joke about computer-illiterate people thinking they could literally catch a computer virus, but what if that became true? Reddit posted an article titled “Scientists Put Malware in DNA For the First Time.” It describes the possibilities of a biological contagion.
For most of us, the mention of hacking tends to become a mere blip on the screen, unless it directly affects us. Hackers have massively disrupted the operation of airports, cargo ships and banks via virus software. Reports of failures of computer systems are on-going and many we don’t ever hear about, but what happens if malware becomes a physical threat?
Experts say the biological contagion of technical devices is becoming real. As reported by Wired, a group of experts, led by Tadayoshi Kohno, from the University of Washington revealed their findings, showing malware can be concealed into the strands of DNA. The team presented the details of their findings at the USENIX Security Symposium in Vancouver, Canada last August.
Currently, such an attack is unrealistic. The effort to design, manufacture and inject the appropriate DNA sequence into the desired sequencing system should be far greater than for other strategies of attack. Above all, the physical limits of DNA made it difficult to produce a functioning code, according to the team. In addition, Kohno’s team deliberately added a vulnerable place in the software of the sequencer, which then was allowed to exploit the malicious program in the DNA. However, the team also found similar vulnerabilities in commercial sequencing software.
Ulrich Greveler, Professor of Applied Computer Science and IT Security at the University of Rhein-Waal also sees the potential risks. He says fingerprint or iris scanners could also be hacked in this way, and it could authorize groups of unauthorized people to access other computers within the network. In any event, Kohno’s team found concrete evidence of poor safety practices across the entire DNA processing sector. On the basis of these findings, the working group now wants to formulate the basis for more data security in bioinformatics.