Raising new privacy concerns, research shows that the DNA signatures of bacteria transferred to objects by human touch can be used for identification.
Scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder have found that the bacteria trail left behind on objects like computer keyboards and mice can analyzed and used to help identify users of those devices.
"Your body is coated with bacteria inside and out," says CU-Boulder assistant professor Noah Fierer in a video on YouTube. "You're basically a walking microbial habitat. And we found that the diversity of bacteria just on the skin surface is really pretty incredible. You habor hundreds of different bacteria species just on your palm, for example. We've also found that everybody is pretty unique. So of those let's say hundred or so bacteria species, very few are of them are shared between individuals."
What Fierer and his colleagues have demonstrated in a new study is that the distinctive combination of bacteria each of us carries and distributes can be used to help identify what we've touched.
Such work may one day help link individuals to malicious computer use or other crimes.
The study, "Forensic identification using skin bacterial communities," appears in the March 15 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It describes how the researchers swabbed bacterial DNA from the keys of three personal computers and matched them to the bacteria on the fingertips of the owners of the keyboards. It also details a similar test conducted on computer mice that had not been touched for over 12 hours.
The study indicates that the technique is 70% to 90% accurate and Fierer expects that accuracy will improve as the technique is refined. Until accuracy is extremely high, the technique is most likely to be useful as a way to augment more established forensic techniques, like fingerprinting and DNA identification.
"There's still a lot of work we need to do to assess the validity of the technique and how well we can recover bacteria from surfaces and how well we can match objects to the individual how touched that object," Fierer explains in the video.
In a University of Colorado at Boulder news release, Fierer said that the new technique raises bioethical issues, including privacy. "While there are legal restrictions on the use of DNA and fingerprints, which are 'personally-identifying,' there currently are no restrictions on the use of human-associated bacteria to identify individuals," he said.
Published: 2015-10-15 The Direct Rendering Manager (DRM) subsystem in the Linux kernel through 4.x mishandles requests for Graphics Execution Manager (GEM) objects, which allows context-dependent attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) via an application that processes graphics data, as demonstrated b...
Published: 2015-10-15 Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerability in eXtplorer before 2.1.8 allows remote attackers to hijack the authentication of arbitrary users for requests that execute PHP code.
Published: 2015-10-15 Directory traversal vulnerability in QNAP QTS before 4.1.4 build 0910 and 4.2.x before 4.2.0 RC2 build 0910, when AFP is enabled, allows remote attackers to read or write to arbitrary files by leveraging access to an OS X (1) user or (2) guest account.
The cybersecurity profession struggles to retain women (figures range from 10 to 20 percent). It's particularly worrisome for an industry with a rapidly growing number of vacant positions.
So why does the shortage of women continue to be worse in security than in other IT sectors? How can men in infosec be better allies for women; and how can women be better allies for one another? What is the industry doing to fix the problem -- what's working, and what isn't?
Is this really a problem at all? Are the low numbers simply an indication that women do not want to be in cybersecurity, and is it possible that more women will never want to be in cybersecurity? How many women would we need to see in the industry to declare success?
Join Dark Reading senior editor Sara Peters and guests Angela Knox of Cloudmark, Barrett Sellers of Arbor Networks, Regina Wallace-Jones of Facebook, Steve Christey Coley of MITRE, and Chris Roosenraad of M3AAWG on Wednesday, July 13 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to discuss all this and more.