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What Can A Hacker Do With Your Genetic Information?
Learning about the genetic markers stored in your DNA can be an illuminating experience, even a life-altering one. Now that direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies such as 23andMe have made these tests more accessible and affordable, it’s no wonder that more than 1 million people have shipped their spit off to be genotyped, and have all their genetic information catalogued (and sold) in the process.
When a massive cache of private information is all stored in one place, it will naturally be a target for hackers. Though there hasn’t been a hack of any consumer genetic testing company yet, it may just a matter of time before someone breaches one of these sites and gains access to not just your credit card, but also your genetic markers.
So how concerned should we be, and what might happen if a hacker ever did get his or her hands on your DNA?
“You can imagine scenarios where unsavory people could try to use this stuff in personal ways,” said Dr. Robert Green, the director of the Genomes to People research program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School.
What would be more detrimental would be a targeted attack to collect your genetic information specifically, orchestrated by somebody you know.
“If there were variants that put someone at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and you were vying with that person in a corporation for a job, you could somehow try to use that information to suggest that they might be unfit,” Green told me over the phone. “You could be in a custody battle where DNA could suggest there’s a predisposition to psychiatric illness, for example.”
Green has previously studied how genetic information like this could be used in politics, citing the obsession and concern over Senator John McCain’s age and vitality in the 2008 election. But if someone were targeting you specifically, there are way less complicated and risky ways of getting your genetic information than breaching the entire 23andMe database....MORE