Aug 11, 2017

It's possible to hack a computer using DNA

Shaury Nash / Flickr

Researchers at the University of Washington encoded malware in DNA and used it to infiltrate a computer system. The demonstration exposed vulnerabilities in the process of DNA sequencing, which is increasingly being used by consumers and patients, and adds to the list of cybersecurity challenges facing the health care system.

  • What they did: When DNA is sequenced, the four molecules that make up genetic code (A, C, T and G, for short) are translated to the 0s and 1s that computers use to store information and execute commands. Computer scientists synthesized DNA that, in the process of being sequenced and analyzed, created a file that allowed them access to the computer performing the DNA analysis.
  • Yes, but... The researchers deliberately put a vulnerability in the sequencing software in order to access it. "Their exploit is basically unrealistic," programmer Yaniv Erlich told Technology Review. Still, they demonstrated a DNA-based attack is theoretically possible.
  • The threat: Minimal as of now, say the researchers. DNA sequencing continues to fall in cost and become more common in health care. As the Atlantic's Ed Yong puts it: "But with great ubiquity comes great vulnerability."

Bottom line: "We strongly encourage additional research before such adversarial pressure manifests," write the researchers.

Go deeper

China tries to contain coronavirus, as Apple warns of earnings impact

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

As China pushes to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus — placing around 780 million people under travel restrictions, per CNN — the economic repercussions continue to be felt globally as companies like Apple warn of the impact from the lack of manufacturing and consumer demand in China.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 1,775 people and infected more than 70,000 others, mostly in mainland China. There are some signs that new cases are growing at a slower rate now, although the World Health Organization said Monday it's "too early to tell" if this will continue.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health

Apple will miss quarterly earnings estimates due to coronavirus

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Apple issued a rare earnings warning on Monday, saying it would not meet quarterly revenue expectations due to the impact of the coronavirus, which will limit iPhone production and limit product demand in China.

Why it matters: Lots of companies rely on China for production, but unlike most U.S. tech companies, Apple also gets a significant chunk of its revenue from sales in China.

America's dwindling executions

The Trump administration wants to reboot federal executions, pointing to a 16-year lapse, but Pew Research reports the government has only executed three people since 1963.

The big picture: Nearly all executions in the U.S. are done by states. Even those have been steadily dropping for two decades, per the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) — marking a downward trend for all executions in the country.