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DNA hacking

Permalink 09/09/08 at 06:29:38 pm, by Ed, 383 words   English (US)
Categories: Programming

I recently read an article that mentioned Junk DNA in such a way that somewhere in my brain, two neurons previously unlinked by a synapse fired in conjunction, thereby creating the thought of a biological equivalent to a certain form of computer exploit known as a buffer overflow.

Essentially, when you run a program, it's stored in computer memory like this:

program
program
program
nothing
nothing
nothing
data
data
data

The nothing is a buffer, such that when you need to allocate more memory, it fills in just above the last allocated data spot, going into the nothing, and turning it into data. So if you need to allocate 10 pieces of data to store the string "dassmesser" (10 letters long), then it would take the 10 nothings above the top-most data and put that string in there.

What if the data you think you have is not as much as the data you actually have? What if you allocate three pieces of data for a 5-letter word? It will just overwrite the data that was on top of the data stack! The unfortunate end-result is that you've lost that data, and now it's equal to whatever the input was. In most cases, not a problem, the program crashes, and you restart. But if that piece of data actually contained a pointer of where the next program line was:

program
program<-----
program     |
nothing     |
nothing     |
<allocated> |
<allocated> |
data--------|
data
data

and the input overwrote it with a value somewhere in the nothing:

nothing
nothing<----|
<input>     |
<input>     |
<input>-----|
data
data

Then the computer would skip all the nothing and just start running the input as if it were the program itself!

The reason I thought of that is because the Junk DNA is like the nothing in the middle there. A hacker could come in and overwrite all the Junk DNA without anybody noticing (ostensibly, somebody would probably notice if you're changing their DNA; ignore that.) and then change one tiny piece of DNA that's actually useful and tell it to go there instead and start randomly morphing you into a beaver! There would have to be some pretty advanced compression algorithms to store beaver DNA in a human's junk DNA, but I don't doubt it could be done. Some day, my pretties, some day. You'll all be beavers.

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