Ebola, smallpox, anthrax and many others: the most dangerous microorganisms are strictly regulated in the United States. The federal government oversees use of 65 so-called select agents with “the potential to pose a severe threat to public, animal or plant health, or to animal or plant products.” Before scientists can work with them to learn more, find cures or create vaccines, they must meet a long list of conditions. The goal is to keep deadly infectious agents safely under lock and key, where they can’t threaten the general population or fall into the wrong hands.
But even the most physically secure research lab could be the site of a devastating data security breach. As they stand now, information security guidelines published by science regulators with regard to select agents lack the critical level of detail needed to protect data effectively.
There has never been as much research performed with these pathogens as in the past decade. The sprawl of high containment laboratories has led to a parallel increase in individuals with access to these agents. As of January 2015, approximately 11,000 individuals were on the list.
As the amount of research done on these deadly microorganisms continues to grow, the scientific community needs to wise up about information security threats and toughen up its defenses. The stakes are high. The goal is to avoid a data security breach that could, for instance, provide bioterrorists…