Molecular Barcoding as a Defense against Benchtop Biochemical Attacks on DNA Fingerprinting and Information Forensics

Mohamed Ibrahim, Tung Che Liang, Kristin Scott, Krishnendu Chakrabarty, Ramesh Karri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


DNA fingerprinting can offer remarkable benefits, especially for point-of-care diagnostics, information forensics, and analysis. However, the pressure to drive down costs is likely to lead to cheap untrusted solutions and a multitude of unprecedented risks. These risks will especially emerge at the frontier between the cyberspace and DNA biology. To address these risks, we perform a forensic-security assessment of a typical DNA-fingerprinting flow. We demonstrate, for the first time, benchtop analysis of biochemical-level vulnerabilities in flows that are based on a standard quantification assay known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR). After identifying potential vulnerabilities, we realize attacks using benchtop techniques to demonstrate their catastrophic impact on the outcome of the DNA fingerprinting. We also propose a countermeasure, in which DNA samples are each uniquely barcoded (using synthesized DNA molecules) in advance of PCR analysis, thus demonstrating the feasibility of our approach using benchtop techniques. We discuss how molecular barcoding could be utilized within a cyber-biological framework to improve DNA-fingerprinting security against a wide range of threats, including sample forgery. We also present a security analysis of the DNA barcoding mechanism from a molecular biology perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9093855
Pages (from-to)3595-3609
Number of pages15
JournalIEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
StatePublished - 2020


  • Authentication
  • barcodes
  • biotechnology
  • cyber-physical systems (CPS)
  • encryption
  • forensics
  • genetics
  • security

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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