JERUSALEM — Israeli researchers have warned of new cybersecurity risks to public health with the growing vulnerability of DNA sequencing repositories, Ben Gurion University (BGU) said Wednesday.
In a first-of-its-kind policy paper published in the journal Eurosurveillance, BGU researchers say the dangers are unfolding as microbiology advances, and whole genome sequencing of pathogens is brought to the forefront of infectious disease diagnostics.
In their study supported by Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology, the researchers note a new method, known as next-generation sequencing (NGS), identifies and characterizes pathogens in a timely manner and speed up treatment.
As DNA sequencing has become cheaper, the next step is to move from the lab into the field and in the future even into homes.
However, such a move exposes microbial test results and DNA sequence repositories to potential hackers.
Therefore, the cybersecurity protective envelope must be developed as part of the products themselves and not tacked on as an afterthought, BGU researchers warn.
The team highlights several potentially vulnerable points during the process, from sample processing and DNA sequencing to bioinformatics software and sequence-based public health surveillance systems.
The researchers concluded that such attacks could have a deleterious effect such as false detection of significant public health threats or delayed recognition of epidemics.