It was a leak of potentially epic dimensions. When Cathay Pacific announced in October that its internal systems had been destroyed, nearly 10 million passengers from Hong Kong's flagship airline faced the possibility that their personal data, including passport data to credit card numbers, would have been intercepted .
However, if we exclude the concern, the truth is that things could have been much, much worse. Since DNA testing procedures have started and are readily available online, there is now the possibility for hackers to access the innermost secrets of your own life, past and future.
The threat was highlighted in June from data breaches to a major Israeli MyHeritage pedigree company, which may have exposed 92 personal files to millions of users. The company, which stores information on family trees and DNA of its users, insists that the violation consisted only of e-mail addresses and old passwords, but the attack nevertheless opened the eyes of the world to an emerging threat.
In the growing field of Asian DNA testing, the two biggest players - both of them based in Hong Kong - are aware of the security challenges. "We take the privacy and privacy of our customers very seriously and include the management of certain steps and protocols to ensure that it remains safe," says Peter Wong, Chief Technical Officer of Prenetics Limited.
Prenetics is partly owned by Alibaba, the owner of the South China Morning Post, and unlike MyHeritage, its control focuses on health-related DNA testing, which is increasingly popular in Asia.
Kevin MacDonald, founder and chief executive officer of Advanced Genomic Solutions (AGS), which has an advanced testing laboratory at Central as well as a subsidiary in the United States, says the trend of Asian demand is moving towards health-based DNA testing.
In North America and Europe melting pots, consumers often prefer DTCGTs - tests that are widely available over the internet and are often marketed as bids for the origin of a person. But in Asia, where there is less asymptomatic origin, MacDonald says consumers are more likely to switch to DNA tests that can be used to predict the predisposition for certain forms of cancer or dementia.
"We empower our customers with their genetic data to make healthier choices for their lifestyle, that's our main activity."
But as demand for services is rising - industry experts predict that the DNA test will be a 50 billion dollar industry up to 2026, much of which is driven by Asian demand - so the risk that sooner or later, there will be a high profile hacking attack.
"In five years, we will see that the number of DNA tests increases by 10 and many of them will be on the back of the B2B [Business to Business] tests, where Asia is miles ahead of the USA"Says MacDonald.
Both Prenetics and AGS work together with companies, including insurance groups and fitness chains, to provide employees and customers with trials that will help identify potential health risks.
For these companies, DNA testing resembles a sound business policy to encourage healthy - and therefore more productive - workers.
However, critics say that as more companies adopt DNA tests, the likelihood of controlling the flow of personal data is becoming more and more complex.
Ultimately, it is necessary to have a lot of confidence, as MacDonald recognizes. "The future and success of the entire industry depends on maintaining consumer confidence, it's really that simple," he says.
This confidence has already been eroded, as several companies admit sharing data with third parties. Last month, the chairman of FamilyTreeDNA, one of the largest US home genetic testing companies, was forced to apologize to the public when it was revealed that they secretly shared data with groups like the FBI to help resolve violent crimes. A US site has published methods for deleting your data from the 23andMe Genetic Testing Site. "
Perhaps it should, since last year the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline acquired 300 million US dollars in 23andMe with the express intention of using DNA data of customers for research.
The threat is global. Data has become the most desirable thing in 21 century, with some of the largest companies in the world, such as Facebook and Google, to be willing to use any method to obtain them.
Prenetics notes that despite receiving $ 40 million dollars from Alibaba as well as additional funding from Ping An, China's largest insurer, it does not share user data without their consent. "Our customers decide and control how the information will be used and with whom to share it," says Wong.
"This restricts third-party access to customer data, including our investors and business associates."
MacDonald is even more emphatic. "We do not sell or share customer data without exception," he says.
With little barriers to regulating DNA testing in Asia - in any form, trust is the most important. In Japan, where government regulations are traditionally onerous and DTCGTs are the most widespread in Asia, there are other issues. A team that co-operated with the Japanese Science and Technology Agency found that there was "guidance but no regulation" in the country's DNA testing climate, and that diagnostic disturbances should be accompanied by professional medical advice.
Due to the lack of regulations across Asia, customers need to understand the consequences of a DNA test. If your data is intercepted, you become the product and of course it is impossible to get it back.