A team of biologists and security researchers were able to successfully infect a computer through malware that was encoded into a strand of DNA.
Last month, a report revealed that scientists were able to code a GIF image into bacteria DNA. The ability to store digital files into living cells has a long list of potential applications, but unfortunately, malware being stored in DNA is a dark side to it.
Malware Stored In DNA Infects Computer
Researchers from the University of Washington have figured out a way to compromise a computer running DNA analysis software by encoding malware into the physical strands of DNA.
The most basic function of DNA is to store information, with its strands made from four building blocks identified as A, C, G, and T. These letters can also store information that a computer can read and change into binary data, and that is what the team from the University of Washington researchers exploited to carry out their research.
The point of the research is to prove the vulnerability of DNA analysis software being used in laboratories around the world. However, instead of demonstrating the weakness through the usual tools available to hackers, the team decided to prove the security holes through another approach that was made possible through the merging of the molecular and electronic worlds.
In a paper that the researchers will present at a security symposium next week, the method of storing malware in synthetic DNA was explained, along with how the compromised DNA was used to gain control of the computer.
The DNA malware targeted security loopholes that were discovered in the analysis software. By encoding malicious code into the DNA, the researchers discovered that they could hack the sequencing program to gain remote access to the analyzing computer.
Should We All Panic?
The ability to hack into a computer through malware stored in DNA sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. Should we all panic now that hackers are moving from exploiting computers to exploiting the human body?
The researchers, however, stressed that there is currently no cause for alarm, as the methodology that they proved to be successful could not be classified as a legitimate threat.
The team found no evidence that DNA analysis software are under siege from hackers. Instead, the results of the research are viewed as the first step in improving computer security for DNA sequencing tools, and not as the first step in bringing them down.