China is scooping up DNA data to target foreign spies – and you, the US government says

chinese soldiers
  • China has been stealing data, including DNA files, to advance its economic, security, and foreign-policy goals, the US government says in a recent report.
  • China’s acquisition of healthcare data is ostensibly part of an effort to become the global leader in biotechnology and medicine.
  • But that DNA data, which is like a biological ID, could allow China to target political opponents, foreign spies, and even its own citizens.
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In February, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) released an unclassified version of its report on Chinese intelligence efforts against US citizens.

The report provides a scathing breakdown of how China has been stealing data, including DNA files, which are like a biological ID of your health data and medical background, to pursue its economic, security, and foreign-policy goals.

On the face of it, China is using legally and illegally acquired healthcare data as part of an effort to become the global leader in biotechnology and medicine. But that data theft reflects a more sinister ambition.

In addition to financial gains, China is using stolen data to target dissidents, foreign intelligence officers, and even its own citizens, including ones spying on their government.

In data, China sees control; in control, it sees security.

Who’s Big Brother?

A lab technician works with human DNA.

Beijing’s focus on data and the creation of a security state where every movement, interaction, and transaction are monitored makes George Orwell’s “Big Brother” look like a petty amateur.

China’s interest in stolen data isn’t new, but it was only in the early 2010s that it ramped up its data-collection efforts. Around that time, the Chinese security services discovered just how deep US intelligence had penetrated China’s security and military apparatuses.

The Chinese government’s interest in data exceeds traditional security norms. For example, in 2015, the US government revealed that Chinese hackers broke into the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and stole sensitive data – including security background forms, fingerprint records, and health and financial data – from millions of current and former US officials and applicants for federal jobs.

Although the OPM hack was an attempt to map out the US national-security community in general, it primarily targeted the intelligence community to determine who works there.

The purloined data compromised several former and current intelligence officers. Equally concerning is the fact that it might endanger future officers and operations and may make the future recruitment of assets inside and outside of China more difficult.

Further, the OPM data offers Chinese intelligence services ample information with which to recruit US assets through blackmail or financial enticement.

Indeed, through successive cyberattacks, China has taken hold of the personal data of much of the American population, regardless of their occupation. (Chinese firms also gather this data by investing in US companies and through partnerships with US researchers.)

In addition to the OPB hack, in the last decade alone China has stolen about 500 million travel and personal records from the Marriott hotel chain, 145 million financial and personal records from Equifax, and 78 million financial, healthcare, and personal records from Anthem.

While data itself used to be hard to come by, the advancement of bulk-data collection over the past 20 to 30 years has made processing, interpreting, and analyzing it in a timely fashion the bigger challenge.

In the 1990s, access to so much data didn’t necessarily translate into actionable intelligence, but investments in and rapid improvements to artificial intelligence are changing that.

Different methods of categorizing and storing data won’t necessarily solve the problem.

“The most [technologically] advanced security can often be bypassed using an analog [and simple] method. We’ve seen a number of different strategies being tossed around in the public discourse, from mounting a stronger offense to focusing almost exclusively on buffering our critical infrastructure defenses,” a former Air Force officer with a background in joint special operations and intelligence told Insider.

A more aggressive cyberwarfare strategy might be the solution, and the Biden administration has indicated that it will be more active in the cyber realm.

But according to Privacy Matters, a digital security and privacy publication, there are important considerations to make before opening the Pandora’s box of cyberwarfare, where there are still no established norms, even among state actors.

What about you?

facial recognition airport Dulles
New biometric facial recognition scanners in Dulles airport in September 2018.

According to the NCSC report, the ethnic diversity of US healthcare data, as well as that data’s accessibility, makes it especially appealing to China.

China’s aggressive bulk-collection strategy, especially of DNA files, poses risks for private citizens.

As the NCSC states, the loss of your DNA isn’t like losing your phone or credit card. You can’t replace your DNA, and its theft can affect you as well as your immediate family and relatives.

Unfortunately, the theft of financial or travel data by Chinese or Russian hackers may not concern people who aren’t immediately affected. But losing your DNA is a wholly different proposition, as it’s literally your biological identity and can be used to track you or to design a biological weapon tailored to you.

“Things can seem pretty helpless from an individual perspective, especially when we read headlines suggesting the NSA has had their own cyber hacking tools stolen and reused against them,” the former officer said.

“We can’t very well defend our financial institutions or other companies from Chinese hackers, but we can know what to do when that inevitably occurs and our personal information is leaked online (along with millions’ of others),” the officer said. “All of this is to say that maintaining an understanding of your online privacy and digital security is an individual responsibility – all else is supplemental.”

For a private citizen, caught in a cyber war between world powers, there are few responses to such theft. Understanding the threat and acting to safeguard the information you can beforehand is probably the best defense.

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Editas surges 50% as ARK founder Cathie Wood sees genomic stocks driving returns for the next 5 years

Cathie Wood
Cathie Wood is the CEO and chief investment officer of ARK Invest, which runs three of the highest-returning stock ETFs of the last three years.

  • Editas Medicine soared as much as 50% on Monday to record highs amid recently commentary from ARK Invest founder Cathie Wood saying genomic stocks will drive returns for her investment portfolios over the next five years.
  • In an interview with Bloomberg on Friday, Wood said her and her team believes “the next FANG [stocks] are in the genomic age,” adding that healthcare is the largest sector exposure in ARK’s flagship disruptive innovation ETF.
  • Editas Medicine is the 11th-largest holding in the ARK Innovation ETF, and CRISPR Therapeutics is the second largest, according to data from ARK Invest.
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Shares of Editas Medicine, a genome editing company that utilizes CRISPR technology, soared as much as 50% to new all-time highs on Monday. There was no official news from the company to explain the move higher.

The move does follow a Friday interview conducted by Bloomberg with ARK Invest founder Cathie Wood, who explained that she sees genomic stocks driving the bulk of the gains for her flagship fund over the next five years.

“The biggest upside surprises are going to come from the genomic space, and that’s because the convergence of DNA sequencing, artificial intelligence, and gene therapies are going to cure disease,” Wood said.

Wood, who is the portfolio manager of ARK’s flagship ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK), has made healthcare the biggest sector exposure for the portfolio, even eclipsing technology.

Read more: Bank of America unveils its top stock pick in each of the 11 S&P 500 sectors and explains why they’re poised to dominate in the year ahead

“We actually think the next ‘FANG’ [stocks] are in the genomic age,” Wood said. 

The potential for genomic stocks could be massive, according to Wood, who foresees a combination of artificial intelligence and gene editing allowing scientists to anticipate and cure diseases like sickle cell disease and diabetes.

Wood has put her money where her mouth is. Behind Tesla, the third largest holding in the ARKK ETF is CRISPR Therapeutics, a gene editing company that makes up 5.7% of the fund.

Other genomic stocks within the portfolio include Invitae Corporation, Editas Medicines, and Intellia Therapeutics, which make up 4.9%, 2.7%, and 2.2% of the fund, respectively.

Shares of ARKK surged as much as 4% on Monday, while Crispr Therapeutics surged 19%, Invitae Corporation jumped 6%, and Intellia Therapeutics gained 24%.

Read more: BANK OF AMERICA: Buy these 26 cheap and fundamentally rock-solid stocks before the economic rebound sends them soaring in 2021


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