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23andMe data breach under joint investigation in two countries

The British and Canadian privacy authorities have announced they will undertake a joint investigation into the data breach at global genetic testing company 23andMe that was discovered in October 2023.

On Friday October 6, 2023, 23andMe confirmed via a somewhat opaque blog post that cybercriminals had “obtained information from certain accounts, including information about users’ DNA Relatives profiles.”

Later, an investigation by 23andMe showed that an attacker was able to directly access the accounts of roughly 0.1% of 23andMe’s users, which is about 14,000 of its 14 million customers. The attacker accessed the accounts using credential stuffing which is where someone tries existing username and password combinations to see if they can log in to a service. These combinations are usually stolen from another breach and then put up for sale on the dark web. Because people often reuse passwords across accounts, cybercriminals buy those combinations and then use them to login on other services and platforms.

For a subset of these accounts, the stolen data contained health-related information based on the user’s genetics.

The finding that most data was accessed through credential stuffing led to 23andMe sending a letter to legal representatives of victims blaming the victims themselves.

Privacy Commissioner of Canada Philippe Dufresne and UK Information Commissioner John Edwards say they will investigate the 23andMe breach jointly, leveraging the combined resources and expertise of their two offices.

The privacy watchdogs are going to investigate:

  • the scope of information that was exposed by the breach and potential harms to affected individuals;
  • whether 23andMe had adequate safeguards to protect the highly sensitive information within its control; and
  • whether the company provided adequate notification about the breach to the two regulators and affected individuals as required under Canadian and UK privacy and data protection laws.               

The joint investigation will be conducted in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding between the ICO and OPC.

Scan for your exposed personal data

You can check what personal information of yours has been exposed online with our Digital Footprint portal. Just enter your email address (it’s best to submit the one you most frequently use) to our free Digital Footprint scan and we’ll give you a report. If your data was part of the 23andMe breach, we’ll let you know.

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Pieter Arntz

Malware Intelligence Researcher

Was a Microsoft MVP in consumer security for 12 years running. Can speak four languages. Smells of rich mahogany and leather-bound books.