The cost of genome sequencing and analysis has been dropping gradually over the last few years. In 2017, for example, it only costs around $200 to get a full DNA analysis. However back in 2014, one would have had to pay $1,000 for the same service. The change in pricing is even more remarkable when considering the earlier years. The late Steve Jobs – Apple’s former CEO, for example, paid $100,000 back in 2011 to have Illumina, an industry leader in genomics, analyze his DNA sequence. The iconic CEO had pancreatic cancer, and he aimed to contribute to efforts to search for a cure using advanced medical techniques like DNA sequencing.
Because of the increasing affordability of DNA sequencing, most people can now turn to genomics to analyze whether they are at risk of inheritable life-threatening diseases. In turn, businesses have responded to that demand by establishing brokerage services that link corporations like Illumina with end users. Over time, front-end companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have accumulated significant amounts of DNA data.
The genomics industry is thus the new frontier of big data storage. Because it relies primarily on cloud storage, it faces similar cybersecurity challenges to those sectors that have a history of leveraging sensitive data for competitive advantage. IT experts, such as security analysts are now in high demand in the genomics field since they can ensure that the customers’ confidential medical histories are inaccessible to unauthorized people.
Stored genetic information is usually anonymous. Therefore, customers have no qualms sharing their DNA details since it is de-identified and is untraceable back to them. In turn, the practice helps genealogical researchers in creating a sizeable pool of data to draw from for their genetic analysis. However, the data is exempt from coverage under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) because the law cannot safeguard de-identified medical information.
Most people are willing to divulge their genetic information, nonetheless. It helps them to trace their (previously unknown) relatives and even establish whether they are likely to get diseases that are passable through shared genes. The medical information is also vital for researchers because it assists them in discerning genetic patterns.
Although anonymous genetic data could seem insusceptible to security risks, there is a possibility that with advancements in technology people may one day manage to re-identify the owners of particular DNA sequences. Exposed personal medical histories would be a goldmine for unscrupulous marketers who would target the affected with their products.
People have used the medical conditions of others to discriminate against them or mistreat them. In some instances, potential employees have missed an opportunity because of their medical challenges. Thus, it is risky, if in the future technology would help the malicious to re-identify individuals using their DNA details.
The other danger that genetic information faces is that identity thieves could work out someone’s identifying details from mere snippets of their genetic information.
Films, such as Gattaca, illustrated how one’s medical history could be exploitable. It enacted the possibility of companies targeting given people based on their predisposition to certain diseases. The same would also be true where one does not qualify for medical cover since insurance companies would work out the risk involved by just consulting DNA data.
No one would be safe if, in the future, DNA sequences are associable to an otherwise anonymous person. Blood relatives, for instance, would be at risk of exposure if anyone in their family has DNA data traced back to him or her.
Massive sets of genetic data can describe the health trends of an entire population. Worryingly, if the terrorists gain access to such information, they could design biological weapons for maximum devastation.
Enhancing Genome Privacy
The main aim of cybersecurity is to allow only those with the correct credentials to access sensitive information. Because the genomics industry now runs on an extensive network of genetic data, securing it is vital for its advancement. Cybersecurity experts have the task of developing methods that would continue to keep DNA information anonymous and de-identified.
The unique nature of DNA means that it is risky to store a complete set for one individual in one cloud. It is simpler for a hacker to infiltrate a cloud than it is for him or her to breach the security mechanisms of several clouds simultaneously. Medical professionals should, therefore, work closely with cybersecurity experts to invent tactics of securing DNA data according to its nucleotide compositions.
The ideal way for IT practitioners to ensure added security for genomics is through appreciating how DNA sequencing occurs. For instance, there are two phases in sequencing. One, data embedding takes place during the binary code application. Two, data extraction occurs at the cipher conversion stage.
Online Degree in Cybersecurity from Maryville University
The Maryville cybersecurity degree provides courses in ethical hacking, network security, and digital forensics. The virtual lab at the University is integral to training future cyber-security experts.
Well-trained graduates are in high demand in computing fields such as security analysis, network architecture, and information security management. They could also contribute their skills to the emerging fields of medical information security like genomics.