National and Transnational Security Implications of Big Data in the Life Sciences

Date Published: 
10 Nov 2014

Big Data analytics is a rapidly growing field that promises to change, perhaps dramatically, the delivery of services in sectors as diverse as consumer products and healthcare. Big Data analytics also have the potential to enable deeper insight into complex scientific problems by leveraging ever-increasing stores of knowledge coupled with ever-improving processing capabilities. These beneficial aspects of Big Data have been well-documented and widely touted. However, less attention has been paid to the possible risks associated with these technologies beyond issues related to privacy. These risks include, but are not limited to, vulnerabilities of datasets to cyber intrusion and design of biological agents intended for harmful or criminal purposes derived from the integration and analysis of Big Data in the life sciences.

In this report, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy (CSTSP), the Biological Countermeasures Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (FBI/WMDD/BCU) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) seek to:

  • Examine the risks and benefits associated with Big Data analytics;
  • Develop frameworks for risk and benefit assessment of emerging or enabling technologies, such as Big Data in the life sciences; and
  • Identify options for U.S. government action to further characterize the risks and benefits from Big Data analytics and to mitigate risks.

The report is the culmination of a year-long evaluation of the drivers of Big Data in the life sciences, possible risks and benefits, and existing or needed solutions to address the risks identified. To carry out this project, AAAS/CSTSP, FBI/WMDD/BCU, and UNICRI involved a working group of experts in computer science, data science, life science, biological security, data security, cyber security, law enforcement and homeland security from U.S. government agencies, intergovernmental organizations, academia, private industry, and the amateur science community.

To announce the release of the report AAAS, the FBI, and UNICRI hosted a report release event on December 11, 2014, in Washington DC. An archive of the event including recorded footage, highlight reel, and agenda can be found on the Report Release Event website.


Deliverables available for download:

Full Report


Report in Brief


Benefit Assessment Framework


Risk Assessment Framework


Risk-Benefit Assessment Worksheet



Individual risk, benefit, and solution scenario case studies include:

  • Scenario 1 
    • Risk Scenario - Targeting of Subpopulations using Big Data
    • Benefit Scenario - Developing medicines to prevent or reduce disease burden in certain populations.
  • Scenario 2
    • Risk Scenario - Misdirection
    • Benefit Scenario - Early identification of infections of public health concern.
  • Scenario 3
    • Risk Scenario - Avoiding Detection
    • Benefit Scenario - Identification of gene targets and mutations for pathogen detection