Researchers at TSSG combined their expertise in Cybersecurity and Molecular Communications to investigate a scenario where the behaviour of bacteria populations was maliciously affected by engineered cells externally attacked. The proposed distributed denial of service attack was reproduced to prevent the formation of a molecular structure that would improve the resilience of bacterial sensors. The paper resulting from this investigation was accepted for publication and received Best Paper Award at the 17th International Conference on Electrical Engineering/Electronics, Computer, Telecommunications and Information Technology (ECTI-CON 2020). This international conference (https://ecticon2020.ecticon.org) is held annually and is organised by the Electrical Engineering/Electronics, Computer, Telecommunications and Information Technology (ECTI) Association, Thailand, to provide a platform to exchange ideas, present technological advances and showcase research work in the fields related to the association areas’ of interest. This year it was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fig. 1: Malicious bacterial population interfering with the biofilm formation process of a population of bacterial biosensors. (a) DDoS attack with a periodic signal of 1-0-1-0. (b) DDoS attack with a periodic signal of 1-1-0-0.
The work was born as a result of the collaboration that Mr. Sergio López Bernal (Ph.D. student at the University of Murcia) did during his internship at TSSG with Dr. Daniel Perez Martins (Postdoctoral Researcher in TSSG) and Dr. Alberto Huertas Celdrán (Postdoctoral Researcher in TSSG and supervisor of Mr. López Bernal).
This paper benefits from the expertise that TSSG, particularly the Mobile Ecosystem & Pervasive Sensing (MEPS) Research Unit, has been developing in the past years in the field of Cybersecurity and Molecular Communications. In a previous paper, Dr. Martins has proposed a communications method to interfere with the bacterial cells by using signalling molecules generated by a second bacterial population. In this recent research, Mr. López Bernal and Dr. Huertas Celdrán expanded this investigation to design an interference signal that is based on a well-known cyberattack (distributed denial of service) and evaluated the impact of different attack configurations on the prevention of biofilm formation, which is a molecular structure often built by bacterial populations to protect themselves against external attacks.
This research can be used to support the development of more robust bacterial-based biosensors and synthetic biology systems to better handle any malicious interference, and to shed a light on the cyberbioattack problems that may arise in the future.
Title: Distributed Denial of Service Cyberbioattack Affecting Bacteria-based Biosensing Systems (Best Paper Award)
Abstract: Bacteria are microorganisms found in the human body, and almost in everywhere, that recently they have been investigated as human gut’s health indicator. After colonizing a surface, bacterial populations form biofilms, which is their natural protection mechanism against physical attacks, harmful chemical compounds and environmental changes. Recent studies have shown that bacteria can be engineered to act as biosensors and bioactuators, externally controlled by electric signals. Despite the benefits provided by biosensors in terms of metabolic diseases diagnosis and treatment, they also open the door to novel cyberbioattacks due to the impossibility of implementing security mechanisms in resource-constrained engineered bacteria. In this context, we have reproduced a distributed denial of service (DDoS) cyberbioattack performed by engineered bacteria that diffuse jamming signals affecting the production of the biofilm structure. A pool of experiments has shown that higher amplitudes and periods in the signal controlling the engineered bacteria have a greater impact on the biofilm disruption.