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Are Computer Viruses a form of Biomimicry?

 

What is biomimicry?

Biomimicry is a tool which can be used while seeking innovation. The concept is that nature has already solved many design problems through the process of evolution. Living things that are still extant have received bits and bytes of code in the form of genetic material and when this information interfaces with the environment, sustainable life forms emerge. Animals, plants, viruses, and bacteria adapt by engineering themselves over the billions of years that life has existed on Earth. The Biomimicry Institute provides numerous examples.

Neural networks mimic Nature's system of a syncytium of nerves to create a mathematical system useful to solve nonlinear problems. Another example of biomimicry given by the Institute of the same name is that of the Murray effect, demonstrated in the veins of leaves and arteries of animals. Murray, an early 20th century physiologist described a formula for the radius of first and successive order branches to maximize conductance of fluid. Flow of fluid in the veins of leaves is important for transport of water, nutrition, and gases, so is an obvious object of study. Leaf venation has evolved over time in response to environmental conditions. This is an example of the genetic code (bits & bytes) being transmitted selectively according to environmental pressure. Dicotyledon leaf venation has many closed loops which are able to carry fluid in the event of damage to other veins including, the central ones. This type of redundancy is built into retinal blood vessels and it has been postulated that it might make for better water and electricity distribution networks, too. Could such a system of reticulating, interconnected, looping pathways build redundancy which allows digital systems to be more resistant to attack? Parenthetically, stoma to various pathways could open and close (like vacuum tubes, zeros and ones, ons and offs) in response to the amount of fluid in the environment. Could we use biomimicry to make digital systems better able to respond to fluctuations in demand?

What are real world viruses?

Viruses are packets of DNA or RNA and protein. They cannot live by themselves but must invade living cells like bacteria or animal cells where they can take over those cells to reproduce. Viruses have a genetic code and can evolve just like single or multiple cell organisms can. Typically, viruses have a nucleic acid genome, a capsid, and an envelope. The capsid surrounds the DNA or RNA and is made of proteins that are, in fact, encoded by the virus’s genetic material. Some viruses have envelopes which are bits of lipid taken from the host cell when the viruses are extruded.

Although viruses have many characteristics of a living life form because they carry genetic material can replicate and undergo natural selection, they do not have a cell structure, which is been considered an import important characteristic of life. They are somewhat like a disembodied bot. Viruses are called virions and they can spread to human cells through various vectors such as blood sucking insects, the fecal-oral route, sexual contact, or airborne particles from sneezing. This is roughly analogous to a computer virus spreading through the internet or through a thumb drive or an unsuspecting host opening a malicious email. The body's own immune response and antiviral medication are roughly analogous to cyber security.

The genetic code which animates viruses is carried on strands of DNA or RNA which carry four types of nucleic acids-guanine, cytosine, thymine, and adenosine, which give cells the instructions they need to make proteins responsible for cell function. How they do this may provide important lessons for computer scientists. Moreover, microbiologists I have much to learn from the computer lab. Computational biology may be a discrete enhancement to conventional thinking. It could be called a form of biomimicry when computer antibodies against computer viruses are inducedDigital ants can swarm to and isolate digital threats.

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You Need to Know About Your Healthcare Breach

 

A total of 2,701 breaches have been reported to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) since 2009, with 138 breaches reported during the third quarter of 2019.  Over 230,588,249 patient records have been affected by breaches since 2009 according to the same data.  This is a staggering number.  For perspective, if these were unique patient records, it would represent approximately 70% of the United States population.  A breakdown of all reported breaches, including the reason for the breach can be seen below in Figure 1.

While theft represents a higher number of incidents, hacking is the reason for 77% of all patient record breaches reported to HHS.  The data makes is very clear that Protected Health Information (PHI) is highly sought after by cyber-criminals.  PHI can be monetized on the Dark Web for an average of $4 - $7 for each record.  The value is greater than that of credit cards, for example, because the personal information contained in PHI does not expire, and thus can be used again and again for wrongdoing. 

Stop-Gap Measures

In my role as a Security Officer, I tell concerned executives that it is a matter of when, not if their organization will be negatively affected by cyber-events.  All hope is not lost, however.  There are important steps organizations can take to ensure they are prepared to respond when needed.  

Conducting a risk analysis is a vital part of a robust cybersecurity program.  This includes a thorough evaluation identifying all threats, controls, vulnerabilities, probability and impact.  By conducting a risk analysis, organizations are better positioned to mitigate threats and prioritize their cybersecurity activities.

Ransomware is often reported as a type of Unauthorized Access, and is one of the most ubiquitous attacks.  While there are countless ways organizations can design a layered approach to protecting against hacking and ransomware, ensuring their backups are air gapped is an absolute must.  This will ensure that if ransomware is successful at infiltrating their environment, their backups will remain unencrypted and thus available.

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