Bio-crime. Are we prepared for it?

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Security and Crime Science


The challenge of cybersecurity persists since the launch of the internet and the proliferation of internet connected devices, with new and concerning opportunities for criminals. The 2019 UK Home Office report on future technology trends in security identified concerns with synthetic biology, listing issues associated with designer psychoactive drugs, pervasive microbiome and genetic engineering by amateurs as examples of the future challenge of "Bio-crime." The relationship between the cyber space, life sciences and social sciences, can be summarised as 'cyberbiosecurity' and includes the technical and the human factors, address the 4P's developed by the National Security Strategy; "to 'prevent', 'pursue' cyber-criminals, 'protect' systems and 'prepare' to respond to new forms of cybercrime" (UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Council research theme: "Human Dimensions of Cyber Security"). In this project a crime science lens is used to identify new forms of offending that might be facilitated by synthetic biology and related biotechnology with the aim of developing informed strategies to address them.
A systematic review approach will be used to map out what new forms of offending might be facilitated by developments in synthetic biology and cyberbiosecurity. Systematic reviews formulate research questions and identify and synthesize studies that directly relate to the systematic review question. They are designed to provide a complete, exhaustive summary of current evidence relevant to a research question. Systematic reviews frequently inform government delivery of health care, public health, and public policy. To complement the systematic review, a Delphi study will also be conducted with experts to generate insight into future potential trends and ways of addressing them. The Delphi method, also known as Estimate-Talk-Estimate, is a structured forecasting tool which relies on a panel of experts. Techniques from data science such as sentiment analysis of social media and fieldwork will be used to identify experts to invite to participate in this work.
To conclude the project, a wet laboratory-based investigation will be performed as an activity which enables assessment of the relevance of current security systems for safeguarding against potential cyberbiosecurity threats. Experiments will be performed using a novel prototype microelectronic 'smart pill' device. Penetration testing will be used to examine the safety and security in both cyber and biological domains. This will enable the crime opportunities to be identified and inform relevant and reliable preventative interventions and security measures.

The EPSRC research areas relevant to this research are:
- Cybersecurity
- Healthcare technologies
- Microelectronic device technology
- Synthetic Biology
- Operational Research


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509577/1 30/09/2016 24/03/2022
1918475 Studentship EP/N509577/1 24/09/2017 25/03/2022 Mariam Elgabry
Description Academic impacts
This research has thus far enhanced the knowledge economy through the dissemination of one scholarly paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Biomedical Central (BMC). This was a protocol that was developed for conducting cross-disciplinary research between synthetic biology and security (an under-researched area in the UK).

The results of the protocol is currently under peer-review and has highlighted current and future security implications of synthetic biology.

Other research components expected to be published to generate a total of four scholarly papers, include a Delphi study with field experts and experimental work to develop a relevant security system to safeguard against the crime opportunities.

Education / Teaching impacts
This research enabled improvement of the teaching and learning of MSc students enrolled in the Industrial Synthetic Biology course by running a workshop to develop critical
thinking skills in the design of experiments and technology with ethics in mind. Another three courses are expected to run the same workshop (for a total of 2 consecutive years).
Exploitation Route Societal and Economic impacts
This research aims to inform, influence and underpin evidence-based policy-making in the UK regarding synthetic biology and, where relevant, to change organisational culture
and practices to improve national security.

Commercial impacts
This research is being commercialized and enhances the research capacity of a private company incorporated by the author (Enteromics Ltd. Company no. 12188084) to further the contribution towards improving
health and well-being research and products.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Security and Diplomacy

Description Translational/Commercial impacts This research is being commercialized as part of a private ltd company Enteromics ltd. (Company no. 12188084). Enteromics aims to hack the gut microbiome for better health by building a secure IoT pill and platform.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Societal,Economic