A DNA diagnostics company will pay $400,000 and tighten its security in the wake of a 2021 attack where criminals broke into its network and swiped personal data on over two million people from a nine-year-old “legacy” database the company forgot it had.
The genetic testing firm, DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) reached a settlement deal with states’ attorneys general in Ohio and Pennsylvania last week, after the social security numbers of 45,000 residents of the two states was exposed, with each of the states getting $200k. Ultimately the 2021 attack exposed the data of over 2.1 million people who had undergone genetic testing across the US.
On its website, the company says its lab director, Dr Baird, has provided DNA expert consultation in cases including the OJ Simpson trial, the Anna Nicole Smith paternity case, and the Prince estate case. DDC offers paternity testing, immigration testing, veterinary DNA testing and forensic testing.
A criminals’ ransom, a decommissioned server, and a forgotten database
The stolen customer data had been previously bought by DDC from a British company in order to expand its business portfolio in 2012, court papers said, adding that “specifically, the breach involved databases that were not used for any business purpose, but were provided to DDC as part of a 2012 acquisition of Orchid Cellmark.”
DDC claimed the impacted databases, which contained “sensitive personal information” were inadvertently transferred to DDC from Orchid Cellmark without its knowledge and said it was not even “aware” that these legacy databases existed in its systems at the time of the breach – more than nine years after the acquisition. It also said it had done an inventory assessment and a systems penetration test; however, the “legacy databases that stored the sensitive personal information in plain text” were not identified during these tests because the assessments only focused on “active customer data.”
According to the settlement deal [PDF] it inked with Pennsylvania, the company ignored warnings from its MSP for months before taking action. “As early as May 28, 2021, DDC’s managed service provider began sending several automated alerts over a two-month period to DDC to notify the company that there was suspicious activity related to the Breach in DDC’s network.”
By August 2021, the service provider notified DDC that there were indications of Cobalt Strike malware observed on DDC’s network, “which finally led DDC to activate its incident response plan,” according to the settlement.
Legal news site Law360, meanwhile, quoted a DDC spokesperson as claiming its internal IT team had responded to a May email alert “through the decommissioning of technical assets that were potentially vulnerable.”
According to the settlement:
DDC then paid the attacker in exchange for the deletion of stolen data, the settlement added.
Under the terms of the settlement, DDC must improve its security practices, hire a cybersecurity boss and bin information that “doesn’t serve any business purposes” such as defunct DBs. The genetics testing business must also start implementing regular software updates, pentest its networks and add 2FA. And the company agreed it would investigate and respond to future suspicious network activity “within reasonable time periods.”
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said of the settlement: “Negligence is not an excuse for letting consumer data get stolen.” Acting Pennsylvania AG Michelle Henry added: “The more personal information these criminals gain access to, the more vulnerable the person whose information was stolen becomes.”
We have asked DDC for comment. ®
READ MORE HERE