Malware has been written into DNA for the first time

Malware has been written into DNA for the first time

Researchers demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to remotely compromise a computer using information stored in DNA.

The other good news is that creating the molecular malware was harder than the researchers expected. In the paper, the team goes so far as to say: "We have no reason to believe that there have been any attacks against DNA sequencing or analysis programs". They then fed this sample into a computer through a DNA sequencing machine that began decoding the sample. Software that reads DNA will translate gene letters into binary digits of 0 and 1.

Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle, have successfully been able to code a malware program into a DNA sample and use it to hack into a computer that was studying it.

"As these molecular and electronic worlds get closer together, there are potential interactions that we haven't really had to contemplate before", said Luis Ceze, a co-author of the study.

To carry out the weird hack, researchers encoded malicious software into a small stretch of DNA they ordered online.

'It remains to be seen how useful this would be, but we wondered whether under semi-realistic circumstances it would be possible to use biological molecules to infect a computer through normal DNA processing, ' said co-author Peter Ney.

A big revolution in genomic sciences is taking place now as the researchers are looking to find new ways to store data using DNA and improve the existing techniques of DNA sequencing.

Anyone who creates an account at DNA research institutes could also submit sequencing files that could be malicious.

'Even if someone wanted to do this maliciously, it might not work - but we found it is possible.

The research was carried out by a team led by Paul G. Allen from the school of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington and will be presented at the USENIX Security Symposium later today.

'We look at emerging technologies and ask if there are upcoming security threats that might manifest, so the idea is to get ahead, ' said Peter Ney, one of the scientists involved in the project.

Output from a sequencing machine that includes the team's exploit, which is being sequenced with unrelated strands. If hackers managed to use this technique to infect DNA with the same exploit, they could potentially change test results and gain access to personal information and a company's intellectual property. The researchers who developed it argue an attacker could use it to hack any computer in the DNA sequencing pipeline. While there are regulations to prevent synthesizing biological viruses such as chicken pox, the researchers warn it may be more hard to detect executable code in DNA.

The team introduced the DNA into E. coli at a rate of one frame per day for five days.

Because the CRISPR system adds DNA snippets sequentially, the position of each snippet in the array could be used to determine the original frame to which the snippet belonged - allowing the "movie" to be reconstructed.