What is a DNA Data Breach and Why is it Such a Problem?

We all know how difficult data breaches with sensitive information are, but this extends to DNA data breaches too. Our article discusses six reasons why DNA data breaches are a problem…

DNA and genealogy tests have taken the world by storm, revealing long-lost family connections, showing people where they originate from, and even bringing justice to killers! Despite this miracle data, there is a darker side.

We would expect to have protection of private DNA information but, unfortunately, DNA data breaches do exist, and large corporations have fell victim to them. So, whilst DNA tests might seem like a fun and exciting idea, there are various risks that you should be aware of.

Although a data breach of private DNA information might seem like an unlikely risk, there are many consequences that might amount from this. Read on to find out what a DNA data breach is, and the potential fallout of one…

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What is a DNA Data Breach?

Data breaches seem to have become common place, and are in the news quite regularly, but even our DNA isn’t safe! A DNA data breach is where personal information has been exposed and obtained from healthcare providers, government agencies and businesses by hackers. The unsettling truth is that companies that provide personal DNA testing are as vulnerable to data breaches as any other company.

There is a growing popularity of customers purchasing personal data testing kits, which might make this industry more tempting for cybercriminals.

Take GEDmatch for example; a longstanding family history site containing around 1.4 million people’s genetic information. They suffered a data breach as a result of two back-to-back hacks, which overrode existing user settings. It’s definitely a concern you should be aware of when choosing to submit your DNA information.

So, why would hackers want your DNA information and why you should be concerned about your DNA data being exposed in a data breach?

6 Reasons Why DNA Data Breaches Are a Problem?

  1. Hackers might sell data or ask for a ransom

One reason why hackers might want to sell DNA data is to gain a ransom. Hackers could threaten to revoke access or post the sensitive information online if not given money.

DNA testing kits can have easy-to-understand interpretations of the health information revealed by the DNA tests, and could contain details of current and possible future health challenges of those consumers. Insurance companies, as mentioned below, and potential employers might find this information useful.

However, you’d like to think that legitimate businesses would not want to access this data.

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  1. Tests are often wrong

DNA tests are argued to be inaccurate some of the time, as not all companies have been approved by the FDA. It is, therefore, unlikely that companies will want the data released into the wrong hands who might interpret the data incorrectly. 

  1. Anonymous data being released

DNA testing can provide people with information regarding their ancestor’s DNA even if these ancestors are not known to you in person. Sperm donors are some people who might be impacted negatively if there is a data breach. It could lead to the exposure of their identity which they otherwise may have wanted to keep secret.

  1. Emotional consequences

As well as practical consequences, emotional turmoil is another consequence of a DNA data breach. Having one’s personal information stolen is extremely stressful. An individual will often never know how much damage has been done or could be done in future.

So, the immediate stress of the breach, alongside the lingering thoughts about later fallback, could mount up and cause negative mental wellbeing. 

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  1. Genetic discrimination

According to some articles, DNA data could be used to discriminate against people. DNA tests can show if someone is genetically inclined towards certain illnesses leading to them being denied certain things, such as insurance or mortgages. Although this is illegal in many countries, this may still be a worry for some.

  1. It’s a permanent problem

Although inconvenient, with a data breach where personal data such as email addresses and phone number are accessed, these details can be quickly changed. However, once DNA is exposed, there is nothing that can be done to retract or change this information. 

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How Can I Take Care of My Personal Data?

Taking care of your personal data is key to keeping yourself safe. Think carefully about whether you need to take a DNA test and, if you do, thoroughly research the company and find out about their security procedures before you submit any information.

When ordering a test, make sure you do not opt into more data sharing exercises than you need, and make sure you read the privacy policy. You could also opt not to share your data for medical research or with people who want to find relatives. In addition to this, ensure that they are end-to-end encrypted.

If you have already shared your data with a genetic testing company, you can contact them and ask them to delete any data they still hold about you. Having your data deleted from their servers means your information will be protected in the event of a hack or data breach at the company.

If you have any top tips or experiences with dealing with DNA data breaches or securing your data, let us know in the comments below. 
Photos by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash, Testalize.me on Unsplash, Braňo on Unsplash and CDC on Unsplash.