Bilkent University
Department of Computer Engineering


Re-Identification of Individuals in Genomic Data-Sharing Beacons via Allele Inference


Nora Von Thenen
MS Student
Computer Engineering Department
Bilkent University

The Global Alliance for Genomics & Health has proposed secure genomic data-sharing through so called "beacon" servers. Beacons allow the user to query the underlying dataset for certain SNP positions, the beacon returns the answer "yes" if a queried SNP exists in the dataset and "no" otherwise. Beacons were considered secure while ensuring utility of the data. Nevertheless, recent studies have shown that beacons are open to re-identification attacks. As beacons are often associated with a certain disease, re-identification of a beacon member can leak sensitive phenotype information and therefore lead to genomic discrimination of the victim. In this work, we propose a re-identification attack and show that the privacy risk is even more serious than previously thought. Using the proposed attack, even if the victim systematically hides his/her informative SNP positions (i.e., SNPs with very low minor allele frequency -MAF-), it is possible to infer the alleles at positions of interest as well as the beacon query results with very high confidence.


DATE: 03 April, 2017, Monday @ 16:30