The Building Blocks of All Matter, Now Also for Storage!

Strands of human DNA

LinkSource Technologies® knows that cyber security and data storage are a big news these days. As a species, we have created more data in the past 2 years than in all of history combined, creating some hefty storage and security needs. Scientists are looking to make it possible to store all the world’s data in one room and they are looking to some of the oldest blueprints in existence.

In 2016, Microsoft purchased 10 million strands of synthetic DNA from Twist Bioscience (a San Francisco based startup) and collaborated with the University of Washington to use the DNA as a means of data storage. While this seems like a far-off futuristic goal, researchers from Columbia University along with the New York Genome Center (NYGC) have recently found a way to store insane amounts of data on the DNA strand. Six files totaling 214 petabytes in size were placed on a single gram of DNA. One million gigabytes make up 1 petabyte. The files included a full operating system, the 1895 French movie “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat”, a $50 Amazon gift card, the Zipbomb computer virus (a virus that fills your hard drive with junk), a Pioneer plaque (a plaque from the 1972 Pioneer 10 and 1973 Pioneer 11 spacecraft) as well as a 1948 study by theorist Claude Shannon.

A Pioneer plaque from the 1972 Pioneer 10 and 1973 Pioneer 11 spacecraft.

This was accomplished via a process called “DNA Fountain”. Data was compressed into a master archive and then broken down into short strings of binary digits. Next, an “erasure-correcting algorithm” was used to pack the strings into droplets. Each droplet contained a barcode in the sequence to help researchers reassemble the file. Then they "mapped the ones and zeros in each droplet to the four nucleotide bases in DNA: A, G, C and T," ending up with a list of 72,000 DNA strands containing encoded data. The code was then sent in a text file to Twist Biosciences, where they turned that digital information into biological DNA.

"Two weeks later, they received a vial holding a speck of DNA molecules. To retrieve their files, they used modern sequencing technology to read the DNA strands, followed by software to translate the genetic code back into binary. They recovered their files with zero errors," the journal reads.

Many researchers feel that DNA is the perfect storage medium of the future as this format is ultra-compact, can last hundreds of thousands of years (if kept cool and dry) and is expected to reach 44 zettabytes (aka 4 trillion gigabytes) in storage by 2020. Think that’s crazy? IBM just figured out how to store data on a single atom.

IBM researcher places data on a single atom.

Researchers were able to magnetize individual atoms of a rare element called holmium. They used the two magnetic poles to stand in place for the 1s and 0s. Using an electrical current pass-through, they managed to write information just like we would to a hard drive. Both methods could shape the way we store enormous amounts of information. The downside is that currently, this science is very costly, with researchers spending nearly $7,000 to synthesize the DNA and around $2,000 more just to read the data.  Atomic storage is even farther off being entirely lab-bound, requiring super-precise tools and ultra-low temperatures. As time goes on, these technologies will become more affordable, but it won’t be going mainstream tomorrow, which may be a good thing from a security standpoint.

The process used by IBM to place data on a single atom of holmium.

 

With every technological advancement, there is another opportunity for hackers to exploit it. That said, many argue that the DNA and atomic data storage approach make data more secure and harder for hackers to use the information if it is obtained. DNA and atomic cryptography (hiding data in a DNA sequence or atom) may be the next big trend in cyber and data security. Cryptography plays a key role in the concept of the CIA triad (Confidentiality, Integrity, Availability) and DNA and atomic cryptography makes the process of cracking the code even more complicated, hence increasing the security of the data stored.

 

Traditional cryptography and its security is based on difficult mathematic problems, but it’s not without flaws. The keys for modern cryptography are so large that a billion computers working together to process a billion calculations per second would take a trillion years to crack a key. This isn’t a problem now, but it soon will be, given the growth of the computing power and technologies.

DNA and atomic cryptography could offer a leg up for secure data storage, authentication, digital signatures, steganography, and more. Though the field is extremely complex and is still in the infant developmental stage, there is much speculation that DNA and atomic computing will act as good techniques for not only data storage, but information security as well.

No medium is perfect. If there is a way to access data, there is a way to crack the code. If advancements in technology have shown us anything, it is that hackers will keep up and find a way in. LinkSource looks to the cutting edge of cyber security and it will be interesting to see what measures we will need to implement as this technology continues to emerge. But with all the potential advantages that DNA and atomic computing brings, it may be worth it.


About LinkSource Technologies®:

LinkSource believes that migrating to new technologies should be a seamless and simple experience for their clients. They work with clients to identify their unique business requirements and advise on secure, reliable, cost-effective solutions.

LinkSource partners with organizations to simplify their technology experience. They are recognized technology advisors in the Telecom, Cloud and Cyber Security industries and manage millions in annual client revenue for some of the most prominent global brands. LinkSource is known for thinking outside the box to create opportunities where others see obstacles. Their highly skilled, innovative team bring a fresh perspective to common problems. To learn more about LinkSource and their services, visit their website.