mcknight1_VINCENZO PINTOAFP via Getty Images_vaccine manufacturing VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images

Biosecurity Is National Security

Just as the advent of the information age underscored the need for cybersecurity, the growing threat of infectious diseases should spur significant investments in biosecurity. To prevent future pandemics, we must be as focused on adapting and surviving as the viruses we are fighting.

BOSTON – If a cyberattack upended the global economy, effectively shut down major cities like New York, and put millions of lives at risk, governments and institutions worldwide would undoubtedly respond by investing heavily in defensive capabilities. They would beef up their cybersecurity, install new safeguards, and collect data and intelligence on future threats – just as many already do in response to acts of cyber warfare.

When it comes to the equally disruptive COVID-19 pandemic, however, the response has been far less decisive. As new variants ravage the health and economic security of the world’s population, biosecurity measures – the early warning and monitoring technologies meant to prevent the spread of infectious diseases – are still not as layered, pervasive, or formidable as the cybersecurity systems we use to contain and mitigate the activities of computer hackers.

But as COVID-19 continues to remind us, public health and biosecurity are vital for national security. Biological viruses, much like computerized ones, attack living systems. They are ubiquitous, and though we may not always be able to escape them, we can study them and learn how to defend ourselves. New biotechnologies are analogous to software patches that protect against cyberattacks. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are a case in point. The scientists who developed them programmed cells to produce “good” code, giving our bodies instructions to neutralize the virus’s “bad” code.