Cyberbiosecurity: biological security in the age of synthetic biology

What is cyberbiosecurity?

Cyberbiosecurity is a new specialty at understanding and mitigating new biological security risks emerging at the interface between biosecurity and cybersecurity.

Facilities that manufacture biologic drugs like vaccines are a critical part of the nation’s biodefense infrastructure. Possible breaches of data systems controlling these biomanufacturing supply chains call for an assessment of their vulnerability to cyber-attacks.

If every computer system is theoretically vulnerable to cyberattacks, it is important to understand how these vulnerabilities might impact the safety, delays, and production of biomanufacturing processes? In particular, it is critical to ensure the integrity of the flow of physical material and the flow of data associated with biomanufacturing processes.

Along with collaborators from Virginia Tech (Randall Murch, Sanjay Raman) and the University of Nebraska Lincoln (Wallace Buchholtz), we are laying the foundations of cyberbiosecurity.

Biological Security beyond Biosecurity

Using the Biological Process Development Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a model facility, we are assessing new biological security risks and defining best practices to mitigate them. We are trying to identify all critical information that is essential to a bioproduction facility’s successful operation and outcome. This effort helps understand the tolerances and vulnerabilities that can be exploited for various nefarious purposes and the specific methods that could be used.

The experience gained in this research project provides the material we are using to develop training programs to help government employees understand the biological security implications of synthetic biology.