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Hackers can steal your DNA and sell it?

File photo DNA code on the screen with the hand to touch

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Is your DNA to protect against hackers?

That is a question that experts have started to question as more and more people submit DNA samples from companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com. In most cases, you can spit in a tube and mail the saliva for genetic testing, which reveals not only your cultural background but give clues about the possible health risks, and genetic disposition. The testing kits cost around $99.

But anyway, hackers do you know DNA is of inestimable value. They can collect a sample when you throw out a used Kleenex, or enjoy a disposable cup. Criminals can collect the DNA sample to blackmail you later sell on the Dark Web, or save it in an archive for future use.

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Joyce Lignell, a representative of TimiCoin/TimiHealth, a company that uses blockchain technology to protect your DNA, says that consumers need to approach genetic testing with their eyes wide open.

“If you are in the DNA testing at 23andMe, make a choice [about who to test and cost model you prefer],” Lignell told Fox News. “But you make the assumption (wrongly) that this is their business model — for example, charged me for a kit and the delivery of the service. But as we have discovered, that is not the case. Their actual business model is based on the sale of their ever-growing data pool of DNA for those who want to buy it.”

Last month, 23andMe announced a major partnership with the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (gsk) focused on “research and development of innovative new medicines and potential cures.” 23andMe customers can “choose to take part in the research and the contribution of their information to a unique and dynamic database,” the companies in a joint statement.

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As part of the four-year partnership GlaxoSmithKline a $300 million investment in the consumer genetics specialist, and has more than 5 million customers.

“The continued protection of the customer data and privacy is the highest priority for both CSF and 23andMe,” the companies said in their statement. “Both companies have a strict security in place when it comes to the collection, storage and transfer of information about the participants in the study.”

Nevertheless, the use of consumer DNA in the spotlight at the moment. Reuters recently reported, for example, that the immigration authorities in Canada, are using DNA ancestry websites for determining the nationality of migrants.

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The FTC is aware of the privacy implications of DNA services. In December, the agency warned consumers about the possible dangers of DNA testing kits. An FTC spokesman gave a statement to Fox News.

“Instead of just clicking ‘I agree,’ the consumer must take some time to understand how their data is used and shared. Consumers should weigh the benefits and the risks, including the risk of a security breach. And when setting up an account on a DNA test, site, privacy-conscious consumers need to choose the settings for maximum privacy.”

Jules Polonetsky, the CEO of the consumer advocacy group the Future of Privacy Forum, told Fox News, “the risks of DNA theft is not serious, but we do see a problem with the consumers are not aware of the consequences of the parts of your DNA.”

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Polonetsky says that companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe require a separate application form, that he says he is, is spelled out clearly as an opt-in program for the sharing of DNA with third-parties.

Lignell did not agree with this, saying: “The fact is that these terms are buried in complex language, in a long document that probably next to no one reads. Specific sensitive terms are not called to and easily brought to our attention, instead of intentionally obscured.”

Ancestry.com gave a statement to FoxNews.com: “security is a top priority for the Ancestors and we are committed to continuously improve our systems for the protection of our customers’ data against existing and new threats. We use technical, physical and administrative safeguards for the protection of customer information stored in our systems. Origin maintains a comprehensive information security program that is designed to protect our customers personal information, based on the sensitivity of the personal information collected.”

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A 23andMe spokesperson also released a statement on Fox News:

“We have a strong authentication method and limit access to our systems by means of policies and protocols. We also use software, hardware and physical security measures to protect the computers on which customer data are processed and stored. Personal information and genetic data are stored in walled-in separated computing environments.”

What will ease the minds of the everyday consumer? A possible solution is to make better laws about the protection of your DNA, the 2008 federal law called GINA (The Genetic Information non-Discrimination Act), and for the member states to become more involved. Polonetsky says that the key is to know exactly what you are signing up to do — and how your DNA will be used.

 

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