Researchers Infect a Computer with Malware Coded Into a Strand of DNA

Saturday, August 12, 2017 - 03:01

Researchers at the University of Washington infected a computer with malware coded into a strand of DNA.

In order to see if a computer could be compromised in that way, the team included a known security vulnerability in a DNA-processing program before creating a synthetic DNA strand with the malicious code embedded. A computer then analyzed the “infected” strand, and as a result of the malware in the DNA, the researchers were able to remotely exploit the computer, the Verge reports.

“We wanted to understand what new computer security risks are possible in the interaction between biomolecular information and the computer systems that analyze it,” the researchers wrote, led by Tadayoshi Kohno, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington.

After sequencing, this DNA data is processed and analyzed using many computer programs. “We have no evidence to believe that the security of DNA sequencing or DNA data in general is currently under attack. Instead, we view these results as a first step toward thinking about computer security in the DNA sequencing ecosystem,” the scientists said.

“A primary goal of this study was to better understand the feasibility of DNA-based code injection attacks. We also know of no efforts by adversaries to compromise computational biology programs,” they explain.

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