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Medical Hackers Are Coming For Your Genes

genetic sequencing

Genetic sequencing holds significant predictive power for a disease that can change healthcare as we know it but can also be exploited to the detriment of all. 

Medical record hacking is on the rise as more and more health care systems digitize patient records, and cybersecurity has become a top issue for the medical industry.

According to Don Baham with Kraft Technology Group in Nashville “With good reason ” hacked medical records sell big on the black market. Where a single social security number can earn a hacker a couple dollars and a credit card number about $100, an individual’s full medical record can rake in $1,000 because of the treasure trove of information within that record.”

In addition to social security numbers and credit card information, medical records also traditionally include date and place of birth, home, and email addresses, even insurance information. If all of that isn’t enough, there’s a potentially even bigger payday coming for medical hackers ” your genetic code.

Technological advances in the biomedical industry have drastically slashed the cost of patient genetic sequencing in recent years. The first whole-genome sequencing cost 2.7 billion dollars in 2003. About a decade later, that cost has dropped to $1,000 or less. The explosion of biotechnology has quickly made available a vast knowledge of our own genetic code, now a reality for anyone with a curiosity or specific question about their genetic inheritance. But since the repeating A, T, G, C, chemical language of DNA is one that requires an advanced medical degree to interpret, most people aren’t going to be able to keep that information to themselves. Medical technology companies specializing in mining genetic data are allowing patients to search for specific diseases they may carry or develop in the future. This powerful information is allowing people to take ownership of their genes, and proactively start preventative medicine options before diseases develop.

Moreover, big data is at the heart of the next wave of biomedical breakthroughs. While scientists can read a full human genome today, they still don’t understand what it all means. A large chunk of biomedical research labs are working on understanding the predictive power that can come with reading a full genetic code. By comparing genetic variances across whole populations, trends can be discovered between sequence anomalies and the likelihood of disease developments. In the not too distant future, it might be possible to predict with credibility how the thousands of gene variances in an individual would interact over time and identify which diseases they are prone to develop. That’s powerful knowledge that has the potential to change our entire approach to healthcare and medicine.

There’s also a formidable danger that comes with detailed predictive power of our genetic code ” preexisting conditions. In our current healthcare system, insurance companies can deny coverage for medically diagnosed conditions at the time individuals apply for health insurance coverage, or sometimes drop coverage if an unfavorable diagnosis comes in. The rapidly increasing pace of our understanding of the genetic code is likely to create a world where everyone could have a preexisting condition of one kind or another. It’s likely that such information could be exploited for discrimination. Under those circumstances, people would be willing to pay top dollar to either have that information to exploit or to get that information back if it was stolen.

And that’s where medical hackers come back into play. While we don’t have all the tools yet to fully understand our genetic code, once genetic data is leaked it could be used against its victim at any point in the future. This is especially troubling to think about today’s youth. Genetic data leaked from pediatrician’s offices could haunt someone for literally their entire lives ” even if they’re healthy and fit for the majority of it. Moreover, since genes are inherited, leaked genetic data could damage the prospects of an entire family line for generations to come.

As medical hackers are stepping up their game, so should medical cybersecurity. It is already essential that genetic data remains in the right hands, even if the full exploitive power of genes isn’t yet available. Keep our collective genetic information safe now, and we’ll all benefit from a world of advanced medical marvels.