Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Weakness Here and There

Sites where users upload their genetic information — to, for instance, examine their genealogy — could be vulnerable to a sort of genetic hacking, a new analysis has found.

In a paper appearing in eLife, Michael Edge and Graham Coop, both of the University of California, Davis, describe three ways people with nefarious intent could use such genetic genealogy platforms. Identical by sequence (IBS) tiling involves uploading real genotypes to the site to then identify genotype data from many people; IBS probing involves uploading a long haplotype harboring a particular allele to then identify people with that allele; and, lastly, IBS baiting involves uploading fake datasets to "trick" the algorithms used to uncover relatives. 

In a proof-of-concept test, Edge and Coop were able to use IBS baiting on the GEDMatch website — in research mode, so that they were not interacting with others' data — to identify particular SNPs within the database.

"People are giving up more information than they think they are," when they upload their genetic data to publicly accessible sites, Coop says in a statement. He and Edge informed sites like GEDMatch of this weakness prior to posting their analysis and offer ways to combat such genetic hacking attacks.