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DNA May Contain Malware

Researchers from the University of Washington have shown (for the first time) that it’s possible to encode malicious software into physical strands of DNA. And why would you introduce code that is useless to the body? So that when a gene sequencer analyzes it the resulting data becomes a program that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of the underlying computer. Because of course you would. If you could.

And Winchell Chung adds:

While that attack is far from practical for any real spy or criminal, it's one the researchers argue could become more likely over time, as DNA sequencing becomes more commonplace, powerful, and performed by third-party services on sensitive computer systems. And, perhaps more to the point for the cybersecurity community, it also represents an impressive, sci-fi feat of sheer hacker ingenuity.

“We know that if an adversary has control over the data a computer is processing, it can potentially take over that computer,” says Tadayoshi Kohno, the University of Washington computer science professor who led the project, comparing the technique to traditional hacker attacks that package malicious code in web pages or an email attachment. “That means when you’re looking at the security of computational biology systems, you’re not only thinking about the network connectivity and the USB drive and the user at the keyboard but also the information stored in the DNA they’re sequencing. It’s about considering a different class of threat.”

(Via Wired.)

Science fiction authors effortlessly captured this sneaky stratagem several years ago. In The Medusa Chronicles, sf writers Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter describe a logical pathogen:

"Is there a problem?" Ten asked mildly.

Valentina leaned over the desk, fists clenched on the surface. "Falcon. What did you do to him?"

Tem blinked. "Do to him?"

"You were given express orders," Bodan said, flanking his sister, his face flushed red with anger. "You were told to alter his DNA. You were told to embed the logical pathogen."

"I did as I was instructed."

"Then why isn't it working?" Valentina's mouth, astonishingly, was dripping drool, a silken line of it reaching Tem's desk. "There's been enough time! We know from tests on captured Machines that our pathology strikes at a latency in their deep instruction core...."

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