January 18, 2013

Scientists expose new vulnerabilities in the security of personal genetic information

Using only a computer, an Internet connection, and publicly accessible online resources, a team of Whitehead Institute researchers has been able to identify nearly 50 individuals who had submitted personal genetic material as participants in genomic studies.

Intent on conducting an exercise in “vulnerability research”—a common practice in the field of information security—the team took a multi-step approach to prove that under certain circumstances, the full names and identities of genomic research participants can be determined, even when their genetic information is held in databases in de-identified form