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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

Report: Climate change is an "emerging threat" to U.S. economic stability

A firefighter watches an airplane drop fire retardant ahead of the Alisal fire near Goleta on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. Photo: Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A top U.S. financial coordinating organization took several steps on Thursday to manage the growing risks that climate change poses to the U.S. financial system.

Why it matters: While the Biden administration has been taking an all-of-government approach to climate change, like factoring climate risk into planning at the Treasury Department, today's moves by the politically independent Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) carry significant weight.

36 mins ago - World

"I assume full responsibility," Duterte says of drug war

Rodrigo Duterte in 2017. Photo: Linus Escandor II/AFP via Getty Images

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday that he assumes full responsibility for a violent war on drugs that has killed thousands of people, Reuters reported.

Why it matters: Last month the International Criminal Court (ICC) formally authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity during Duterte's war on drugs.

CDC approves boosters for Moderna and J&J and mix-and-match

Boxes containing vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's independent advisory panel voted unanimously to recommend booster doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine and allow people to mix-and-match doses.

The big picture: The agency aligns with the Food and Drug Administration authorization Wednesday night which said people could switch to whichever vaccine they wanted for their booster shot.

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