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Biohackers splice malware directly into DNA strands

The malicious software is activated whrn the DNA sequencer analyzes the data. (Source: Shutterstock)
The malicious software is activated whrn the DNA sequencer analyzes the data. (Source: Shutterstock)
Scientists came up with a plan to infect computers using altered human DNA. The malicious code is activated when the altered human genetic code is analyzed by a DNA sequencer that is hooked to a computer network.

Scientists have already managed to alter DNA sequences in human embryos in order to fix a disease gene, so the technology to alter human traits is already here, even though human ethics might prohibit such experiments. However, a group of scientists from the University of Washington claims that they can infect computers using modified human DNA strands. The biohackers presented their research at the USENIX Security conference, demonstrating how pieces of malicious software code can be spliced onto strands of human DNA and used to infect the computers connected to the gene sequencer.

In a Wired interview, the biohackers unveiled that the attack works similar to storing malware on a USB drive that is designed to infect a computer that reads it. The bio-malware is encoded into the physical strands of DNA so that when the sequencer analyzes it, the resulting data becomes an actual malicious file. Another way to infect computers described by the scientists is to provide malicious DNA to law enforcement agencies and corrupt incriminating evidence along with the hardware.

Even if the DNA sequencers are not widely used now, the proof-of-concept put together by the Washington University scientists still needs to be addressed. In a future where DNA sequencers are used to build healthcare patient databases, hackers could use this sort of virus to steal private medical information.


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Bogdan Solca, 2017-08-11 (Update: 2017-08-11)