Security vulnerabilities and countermeasures for target localization in Bio-NanoThings communication networks

Alberto Giaretta, Sasitharan Balasubramaniam, Mauro Conti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


The emergence of molecular communication has provided an avenue for developing biological nanonetworks. Synthetic biology is a platform that enables reprogramming cells, which we refer to as Bio-NanoThings, that can be assembled to create nanonetworks. In this paper, we focus on specific Bio-NanoThings, i.e, bacteria, where engineering their ability to emit or sense molecules can result in functionalities, such as cooperative target localization. Although this opens opportunities, e.g., for novel healthcare applications of the future, this can also lead to new problems, such as a new form of bioterrorism. In this paper, we investigate the disruptions that malicious Bio-NanoThings (M-BNTs) can create for molecular nanonetworks. In particular, we introduce two types of attacks: 1) blackhole and 2) sentry attacks. In blackhole attack M-BNTs emit attractant chemicals to draw-in the legitimate Bio-NanoThings (L-BNTs) from searching for their target, while in the sentry attack, the M-BNTs emit repellents to disperse the L-BNTs from reaching their target. We also present a countermeasure that L-BNTs can take to be resilient to the attacks, where we consider two forms of decision processes that includes Bayes' rule as well as a simple threshold approach. We run a thorough set of simulations to assess the effectiveness of the proposed attacks as well as the proposed countermeasure. Our results show that the attacks can significantly hinder the regular behavior of Bio-NanoThings, while the countermeasures are effective for protecting against such attacks.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7347397
Pages (from-to)665-676
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioterrorism
  • Internet of nano things
  • Molecular communication
  • Security


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