Genetics startup Veritas rocked by data breach

DNA-screening company Veritas Genetics has suffered a security incident in which a hacker accessed and potentially stole customer information.

The company declined to specify what sort of information was compromised as a result of the data breach, although did clarify that no genetic data, DNA-test results or health records were accessed.

Although there are a host of DNA-screening services, companies such as Veritas and 23andMe set themselves apart by claiming to offer customers a full analysis of the human genome. This amounts to examining all 6.4 billion letters, as opposed to just a fraction of the genetic information, as is conventional practice.

"The security and privacy of customer information is a top priority, and we have security processes and procedures in place as part of this commitment, including segregating and securing genomic data on separate systems," the company said in a statement.

"Our forensic investigation is ongoing, and we will notify any potentially impacted individual as appropriate under applicable law."

The startup's customer-facing portal had recently been accessed by an unauthorised user, the company confirmed, although it didn't specify when it became aware of the incident, or how long the system had been exposed.

The firm added that its security processes were robust, and these included segregating and securing genomic data on a separate system to customer information.

"Based on our investigation to date, only a handful of customers were potentially impacted, no genome sequences or genomic data or Veritas test results in any format were accessed and no customer information has been used inappropriately," Veritas continued.

"It is important to note that Veritas Genetics does not store credit card information in its systems.

"Our forensic investigation is ongoing, and we will notify any potentially impacted individual as appropriate under applicable law. We are also considering legal action against the perpetrator and will explore all available legal recourse based on the findings of our investigation."

As services like Veritas Genetics' genomic analysis become more widely-used, there are mounting privacy and security concerns around how tightly-guarded this information is.

Accessing such information could, for example, inform cyber criminals about any medical conditions or genetic issues individuals may have. This could, in some instances, lead to subsequent blackmail attempts.

Similarly, support for biometric security is gaining velocity as an alternative to conventional password security. Experts in the field are concerned, however, with the sense of permanence that is associated with hackers stealing this data.

There are manual ways of replicating a fingerprint, according to German hacking group Computer Chaos Club, although this is laborious and time-consuming. When Apple's Touch ID has first launched six years ago, the outfit demonstrated that one can copy a fingerprint from an existing surface, clean it up using graphite powder, take a high-rest photo and print it off at a high resolution on latex material.

It's nothing compared with a security incident earlier this year, in which the pre-stored biometric information of more than one million people was leaked. Fingerprints and facial recognition information, as well as unencrypted passwords, were exposed when the Biostar 2 database was accidentally made unprotected.

IT Pro has approached Veritas Genetics for more information surrounding the data breach.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.