Popular open-source gene-sequencing software has now been spoofed by malware encoded inside of a synthetic strand of DNA, making it the first time a molecule has been used to hack a machine.
A research team with the University of Washington claims to have been successful in their attempts to control a computer by introducing DNA tainted with malware code, according to the Guardian.
"We designed and created a synthetic DNA strand that contained malicious computer code encoded in the bases of the DNA strand," stated Tadayoshi Kohno and Luis Ceze, the study's research leads.
"When this physical strand was sequenced and processed by the vulnerable program it gave remote control of the computer doing the processing. That is, we were able to remotely exploit and gain full control over a computer using adversarial synthetic DNA," cited by The Guardian.
The hack, created at the university's Paul G Allen school of computer science and engineering, involved encoding malware within a gene sequence which, when read by freely-available DNA-sequencing software, caused an ordinary consumer-grade desktop computer's Windows operating system to become infected and surrender its functions to the attacker.
The study's primary purpose, according to the researchers, is to draw attention to the need to boost security in the readily-available freeware generally used to sequence DNA, a practice of increasing importance in almost every walk of life.
"Note that there is not present cause for alarm about present-day threats," stated the study authors, who added, "We have no evidence to believe that the security of DNA sequencing or DNA data in general is currently under attack."
"It is time to improve the state of DNA security," the researchers asserted, cited by The Guardian.
"We encourage the DNA sequencing community to proactively address computer security risks before any adversaries manifest."