The Importance of Cybersecurity in Biological Research

609

 

With the rapid advancement of technology, new opportunities have opened up for biological research. What can be done now in the medical field is possible, in part, due to tech. However, with these advancements also come vulnerabilities.


Cybersecurity is a growing issue, and the current coronavirus pandemic is making it abundantly clear that new solutions are necessary.

Flaws in the System

Biotechnology is what powers standard tools in research labs. Rapid innovation helped speed up biological advancements. Without biotechnology, current methods for diagnosing and treating illnesses like the novel coronavirus would not be possible. However, this kind of connectivity also brings cybersecurity concerns.

Outdated biotech may be more common in startups that need less expensive equipment. Regardless, old and new biotechnology systems alike need the best cybersecurity protection. Working with synthetic materials and substances, especially, can be a vulnerable area.

For instance, a cybersecurity study mentioned the case of a bioengineer’s hacked PC, which led to a browser attack. The hackers altered the DNA sequence’s order and made it malicious.

When hacks like these occur, it puts entire trials and research practices at risk. Faulty treatments could end up harming the rest of the study or derailing it altogether. Moreover, these biological cybersecurity threats could hurt populations, especially when it comes to widespread issues like the current pandemic.

COVID-19 Influence

With the COVID-19 virus affecting millions of people worldwide, biological research has increased like never before. The studies that go into the virus are critical for understanding how to treat it and develop vaccines in the lab.

While Pfizer and Moderna are now rolling out their vaccines to essential services and individuals in the United States, countless other biotech companies are still developing solutions. This rush of attention, research and focus on the pandemic has also brought cybersecurity threats to the labs.

In July of 2020, a group of COVID-19 vaccine developers was targeted by hackers. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in the United Kingdom believes the group, APT29, was likely part of a Russian intelligence service that sought to steal information and progress regarding COVID-19 vaccines.

Based on preexisting attacks, breaches and attempts like these could be much more malicious. If cybercriminals hack into biotechnology without detection, they could compromise months of progress. The chemical composition of certain guidelines for vaccines or other illnesses could be altered, whether they relate to the novel coronavirus or not. Thus, without the right cybersecurity protocols, the pandemic — and all other biological developments — becomes even more harmful.

Solutions Moving Forward

As millions of people worldwide slowly begin to receive COVID-19 immunizations, cybersecurity must continue to be a priority. That way, biology labs and researchers can keep all kinds of threats out of the research and treatment. However, the future requires better cybersecurity, as well. An illness on the same level as the coronavirus could one day strike again, requiring the enforced protection.

Solutions include new technology that can handle every threat. For instance, screening algorithms can consider the entire lab’s data and provide better protection from outside factors. Specifically, artificial intelligence (AI) systems can use analytics to monitor all behavior and decide if something seems malicious on any biotech.

Existing data will need safekeeping, too. Lab technicians and researchers should have backups of all the work they process, and then store it offline under secure end-to-end encryption layers.

Biologists and research labs can partner with specialty cybersecurity firms to ensure everything is under lock and key. Also, it’s important to remember that leaks can come from within the organization — limiting access is thus a crucial step.

Parallel Advancements

As technology advances for biological research, it simultaneously equips cybercriminals with new tools and tactics. When it comes to something like a pandemic, the scale and severity are too great to forgo cybersecurity in the lab. Using tech-based solutions is what will ultimately keep progress safe for research and the general public.