Team:Edinburgh UG/Encryption

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Team:Edinburgh/Part Collection


Storing information isn’t as simple as finding a place to put it until you need it. The growth of digital information storage and transfer has also come with an increased demand for security and encryption. When we set out to design our modular DNA data storage system, we immediately thought of the question; is it possible to encrypt our DNA?

Why encrypt?

Imagine you have just used our software to encode your data into BabbleBlocks….

Scenario #1: When you decode your DNA, you are hacked and the data is stolen…

After retrieving your DNA sequencing results, you will input this back into our software for decoding. As your computer will most likely be connected to the internet, it is entirely possible for someone to steal your data during decode.

Scenario #2: You have sequenced your DNA. Before you manage to decode the sequence, someone else gets a hold of it…

Similar to the situation above, it is possible that if your sequencing results are being sent to you online they could be intercepted or the file on your computer may be hacked. Our encryption system ensures that only those with the correct key will be able to decode the DNA sequence to the original data.

Scenario #3: You want to send confidential data to someone, how can you prevent the message from being intercepted?

In the spirit of iGEM, our software and procedures will be open source. This means that if you were to send a DNA message to a friend, it would be possible to intercept the message and decode it using our systems.

A conversation with FBI Special Agent Edward You pointed out to us the importance of security in modern information transfer; in order for our method to be utilised by both private individuals and large scale companies, we need to incorporate a method of encryption that restricts decoding. Even archival data that is stored for long periods of time should have some level of encryption.

Overview of Encryption

We are using two methods for encrypting our DNA: Stream Cipher and RSA. RSA is a form of public-private key encryption, and ensures that when transferring information, only the intended party is capable of decoding the DNA. The public key from RSA is used to encrypt the DNA using a stream cipher; meaning that each BabbleBlock will be encrypted differently, based on the public key. The message can then only be decoded with the public key’s corresponding private key.

Other considerations

Not all data needs to be encrypted. Additionally, developing a system that requires extensive network or computational stress goes against one of the main tenets of our system; sustainability. As such, we have designed this system as an optional bonus to our DNA Typewriter.


For the page design, we used some features from the Edinburgh iGem Team 2015: