CyberbiosecurityPreventing Cyberbiosecurity Threats and Protecting Vulnerable Countries

Published 26 June 2020

AI can automate the manipulation of medical datasets, expanding a cyberattack’s impact through health and biotech industries. Cyber- and biosecurity threats can erode trust in technology. Eroded trust in technology is dangerous at any time but especially during a global pandemic such as COVID-19.

The CT lung scan showed the ravaging signs of COVID-19 and the inflammatory response, the cytokine storm. But what if the CT scan was wrong?

This is no passing concern. In 2018, a malicious attack was designed to hack hospital CT scans, generating false lung tumors that conformed to a patient’s unique anatomy, leading to a misdiagnosis rate in excess of 90 percent. Furthermore, researchers at Harvard University tested adversarial attacks against algorithms used to diagnose skin cancer images, demonstrating that such attacks required only modifying a few pixels in the original biopsy picture to corrupt a diagnosis.

These examples are just a sampling of how AI can automate the manipulation of medical datasets, expanding a cyberattack’s impact through health and biotech industries. Those attacks exist in an era of hybrid security risks where pandemic threats converge with the weaponization of powerful dual-use technologies. Developed for beneficial purposes, dual-use technologies can also inherently cause harm, either accidental “unintended harms,” or as a result of deliberate malicious intent. The convergence of cyber- and biosecurity threats reduce our ability, in a global health crisis, to trust what the digital pictures of our bodies tell us about a complex virus like COVID-19 and how fast we analyze pathogens in future crises, natural or man-made.

These converging security risks have corrosive implications for every country, but particularly those that have poor and outdated medical, biotech and cyber-infrastructure or who don’t have the capacity to protect their vulnerable populations from the weaponization of pandemic and technological threats.

To protect those bearing the brunt of systemic crises, countries need to shift from reactive to proactive measures, developing global prevention platforms to identify and prevent such threats.

The WEF says that a global prevention platform could address three key challenges:

1Increasing Cyber-, Bio- and Human Insecurity
Global public health crises create conditions of extreme fragility where dual-use technologies can be harnessed to increase insecurity. As mentioned by the UN Secretary-General In his address to the Security Council, “The weaknesses and lack of preparedness exposed at the time of pandemic provide a window onto how a bioterrorist attack might unfold – and may increase its risks. Non-state groups could gain access to virulent strains that could pose similar devastation to societies around the globe.”