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Human genome data in hacker peril shocker

Risks overplayed by emarketplace integrator

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As if the attacks by crackers on credit card databases and even Microsoft's internal network wasn't bad enough, a firm of ebusiness integrators has outlined security holes on sites containing genetic research.

A report issued by BioExchange.com suggests there is lax security at the half-dozen online genomics companies who provide commercial-grade research tools and proprietary data sources for the biotechnology industry.

This might seem like pretty esoteric stuff but BioExchange.com believes the issue is important because other companies want to analyze and store personal genomic information for research and health.

This means data that would point to disease or inherited disorder of patients and participants in drug trials would be held online - raising obvious security and privacy issues

BioExchange.com analysed the current online genomics services and judged the state of their security based upon use of (Secure Socket Layer) SSL encryption, password protection, and the sensitivity of information that is transferred via direct e-mail mechanisms.

According to the study, none of the sites reviewed, including those of Caldera Genomics which is a prime mover behind the Human Genome project, support encrypted email and easily guessed passwords could be used. That's it really - no firewall misconfigurations, unpatched operating system problems or even a Microsoft Internet Information Server problem in sight.

So why the fuss? Well BioExchange.com is in the electronic marketplace business so it has a pretty obvious interest in talking up its ability to provide a secure environment for the exchange of this kind of data. Leaving aside the hype surrounding electronic marketplaces, we can't help but wonder if BioExchange.com has scored an own goal by antagonising the very companies it wants to supply services to, in particular it might have a hard job selling to Celera, which it singles out for particular criticism.

BioExchange.com said: "There is no working encryption on the entirety of the Celera web site, where genomic information is proxied to their terraflop supercomputers containing their proprietary databases of the Human Genome."

However when we tried this we found that we had to make a connection to celera.com through a secure SSL connection, so either the site has been updated or BioExchange got it wrong. ®

External links:
Bioexchange.com

Related stories:
Human Genome out on CD
Alpha chip powers Celera genome burst
Hackers, Windows NT and the FBI
How you hack into Microsoft: a step by step guide
$10m super'puter to crunch genetic code

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