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Legal Action Unveils Alleged Targeting of Jewish and Chinese Customers in 23andMe Data Breach

AutoLegal Action Unveils Alleged Targeting of Jewish and Chinese Customers in 23andMe Data Breach

Biotech Firm 23andMe’s Data Breach: Unveiling a Chain of Events

1. Introduction

Biotechnology and DNA-collection company 23andMe faced a significant data breach, revealing a cascade of events and security lapses that spanned several months.

2. Credential Stuffing Attacks: April to September 2023

2.1 Detection Failure

23andMe admitted to a failure in detecting any malicious activity for the entire five months from April 29 to September 27, 2023. Attackers utilized credential stuffing techniques, exploiting weaknesses in the system’s authentication.

2.2 Delayed Discovery

The breach went undetected until October, when a Reddit post about data sale brought it to the company’s attention, raising concerns about the internal security monitoring tools’ effectiveness.

2.3 Extent of the Breach

The exact number of targeted accounts during this period remains unclear, but the breach impacted 14,000 accounts with the DNA Relatives feature enabled, ultimately exposing the data of 6.9 million individuals.

3. DNA Relatives Feature and Data at Risk

3.1 Core Feature Description

DNA Relatives, a core feature of 23andMe, allows users to identify potential relatives based on DNA matches, forming a critical aspect of the service.

3.2 Compromised Data

If an account was breached through credential stuffing, even individuals with a minimal shared DNA percentage could have had their data accessed. Breach notifications outlined potential data exposure, including last login data, relationship labels, predicted relationships, and more.

3.3 Profile Information

Users could configure display names and share additional information like ancestry reports, matching DNA segments, location, family trees, and personal bios.

4. Credential Stuffing Challenges and Mitigations

4.1 Detection Challenges

Credential stuffing attacks pose detection challenges as compromised accounts use proper credentials, making it difficult for organizations to spot malicious activity.

4.2 Mitigation Measures

Endpoint solutions, such as blocking IP addresses attempting mass logins, offer a degree of control. However, the most effective prevention is the implementation of two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA).

4.3 Delayed 2FA Implementation

Notably, 23andMe only made 2FA mandatory by default in November, a month after detecting the breach, prompting criticism and emphasizing the importance of proactive security measures.

5. Blame Game and Legal Implications

5.1 User Negligence Claim

In response to the breach, 23andMe sent letters to breach victims’ lawyers, attributing the incident to user negligence. The company denied allegations of its own security failures being the primary cause.

5.2 Industry Response

The leak of the blame game letter generated mixed reactions within the information security industry. Some criticized 23andMe for lacking 2FA, while others argued users were at fault for not updating credentials post prior breaches.

5.3 Terms of Service Changes

In an attempt to limit legal action, 23andMe introduced changes to its terms of service, including a 60-day dispute resolution period, requiring customers to attempt informal resolution before pursuing legal options.

6. Aftermath and Security Enhancements

6.1 Stolen Health Reports and Raw Genotype Data

23andMe confirmed that hackers stole health reports and raw genotype data during the five-month unnoticed breach, impacting millions of customers.

6.2 Data Posted on Hacking Forums

Stolen data, including information from 1 million Ashkenazi Jews and 4.1 million individuals in the UK, was posted on hacking forums, underscoring the severity of the breach.

6.3 Customer Impact

Customers using DNA Relatives faced additional risks, with 5.5 million affected through this feature and 1.4 million via the Family Tree feature.

6.4 Security Measures Post-Breach

23andMe took corrective measures, requiring all customers to reset passwords and implementing mandatory 2FA for new and existing customers from November 6.

7. Class-Action Lawsuit and Privacy Concerns

7.1 Lawsuits and Updated Terms of Use

Multiple lawsuits were filed against 23andMe, leading to updates in the company’s terms of use, making it harder for customers to join class-action lawsuits.

7.2 Privacy Accusations and Class-Action Lawsuit

The company faces a class-action lawsuit, accusing it of failing to protect customer privacy and neglecting to notify specific targeted groups about the breach.

8. Escalation: Lawsuit and Privacy Implications

8.1 Class-Action Lawsuit Allegations

The class-action lawsuit accuses 23andMe of failing to protect customer privacy and specific targeting of individuals with Chinese and Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

8.2 Privacy Sensitivity

As data from the breach was exposed on the dark web, concerns about potential physical harm or harassment escalated, especially for targeted groups.

8.3 Geopolitical Risks

In a heightened geopolitical and social climate, concerns about the leaked data empowering extremist groups and endangering specific populations led to calls for an FBI investigation.

9. Future Challenges and Data Security

9.1 Inevitability of Breaches

Experts weigh in on the inevitability of such breaches, raising questions about whether companies will take adequate precautions or merely apply temporary solutions.

9.2 Paradigm Shift in Privacy Law

The lawsuit against 23andMe is seen as a paradigm shift in consumer privacy law, emphasizing a higher standard for companies to protect sensitive data.

9.3 Datafication Challenges

The broader concern extends to the increasing datafication of lives and the responsibility companies bear in safeguarding sensitive information.

In conclusion, the 23andMe data breach underscores the critical importance of robust security measures, timely detection, and proactive user protection in the biotechnology and DNA-collection industry. The aftermath, including legal implications and heightened privacy concerns, signals a paradigm shift that will likely shape future approaches to consumer data protection.

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