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Scientists infiltrate computer using malware coded DNA
August 20, 2017, 1:09 pm

Scientists at the University of Washington were recently able to turn science fiction into reality by successfully infecting a computer with malware coded into a strand of DNA.

In order to test the vulnerability of computers to bio-engineered attacks, the scientists used a known security weakness in the coding of a DNA-processing program to create a synthetic DNA strand embedded with the malicious code. 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.

“We wanted to understand what new computer security risks are possible in the interaction between bio-molecular information and the computer systems that analyze it,” the researchers led by Professor Tadayoshi Kohno said.

The basic structural units of DNA are called nucleotides, and they are stored as letters A, C, G, and T. Sequencing of DNA allows scientists to determine the order of the nucleotides, which in turn means scientists are able to analyze the genetic information carried in the strands.
After sequencing, this DNA data is processed and analyzed using many computer programs.

The researchers added, “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.”


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