Your DNA and the Cybersecurity Issue, How Safe Are We?

How Safe Are We with Your DNA and Cyber ​​Security Issue?
Credits: B. Hayes/NIST

If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought about the security of my personal information, I would have said something about my Social Security number or credit card information. Several major data breaches involving government and commercial databases have hurt me as much as our fellow citizens. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant experience and kept me awake at night worrying about how this breach would affect my credit rating.

Will this violation damage my credit rating now? How will this affect me when I retire later? I signed up for the free credit monitoring tools offered and did my own credit checks, but I still don't have that warm, fuzzy feeling of protection. However, no matter how bad my experience with these breaches was, it scares me to think about the concerns of people putting their personal health information at risk!

Yes, the lines you have read above are personal experiences that all countries and our own country will live and have to live over time. Let's continue to convey the information of our author on this subject.

In many areas of daily life, our society is increasingly generating and becoming dependent on personal data. Genomic data, or the genetic information of an individual, is a more modern category of data at risk. Because of technological advances in DNA sequencing, what used to be a multimillion-dollar, decade-long effort to sequence a human genome now takes less than a week and costs less than a thousand dollars. This information is used by researchers, companies and, surprisingly, ordinary people going about their daily lives.

I remember my adoptive friend sharing with me that she sent her sample directly to a consumer DNA testing provider to learn about her health information and family heritage. Sounds simple, right? No, not at all. Hearing my close friend describe what he's been through during his lifetime to find out what kind of illness he might experience made me think of a few things. My process of obtaining this information includes a meeting with people I know and trust. Its operation required it to have another data type in a database that was vulnerable to an unknown number of breaches.

If genomic data gets into the wrong hands, it can be used to discriminate against me or my children, manufacture biological weapons, or sabotage businesses that rely on genomic data.

Credit cards, Social Security numbers, health information, and genomic data are all examples of sensitive data. Data stored in the information world is always at risk. Everything must be protected… However, I wonder if the same cybersecurity tactics apply to different types of data.

Due to my profession, I am privileged to be familiar with the basics of cybersecurity that many ordinary people are not. I have worked in information technology organizations and throughout my career in different federal government agencies I have been part of teams and task forces responsible for identifying and addressing cybersecurity risks.

As principal investigator at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)'s National Center of Excellence for Cybersecurity (NCCoE), I am currently leading research that looks at a critical question: Is genetic data different from other types of data?

How should genomic data be protected in terms of cyber security?

The NCCoE launched an effort to address these issues in August 2021, at the request of Congress. NIST staff, both based in Huntsville, MITER subject experts, and members of the University of Alabama and HudsonAlpha Biotechnology Institute in Huntsville formed an interdisciplinary team. This group explores what makes genomic data distinctive and the most common and significant cybersecurity risks it poses, while identifying and guiding security and privacy measures to help protect that data.

As an initial start, we sponsored the NCCoE Virtual Workshop on Genetic Data Cybersecurity on January 26, 2022, where 18 subject matter experts from around the world reviewed specific issues in securing genomic data. Speakers included speakers from the US government, public and private universities, industry and professional groups. The speakers discussed their experiences, from the time the data was generated on the sorters to the time it was recorded, distributed and evaluated. Experts in the field of privacy were also present.

Here are a few things I've heard that support my previous concerns and beliefs.

Genomic data is different from other types of information. Unlike my credit card, it can never be changed and can be used to reveal extra information about me, such as diseases I currently have or may have in the future.

Breakthroughs in health, such as personalized health treatments and early disease detection, are based on genomic data research that I hope will benefit me and my family.

If genomic data gets into the wrong hands, it can be used to discriminate against me or my children, manufacture biological weapons, or sabotage businesses that rely on genomic data.

The challenges and dangers of processing genetic data are not limited to a single component. For example, data generated using a genetic sequencing tool is fragile and requires safeguards to provide protection.

We all have a vested stake in ensuring that genomic data is secure. Our children and grandchildren count on us to get it right!

Source: Author: Ronald Pulivarti

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