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Hacking in the Genetic Genealogy World!

There are so many security breaches and problems for us genetic genealogists to worry about these days! Why would anyone want your DNA data? I can understand wanting your credit card information, although these days those companies are quick to spot fraud. But why hack a DNA site? My DNA can tell you my eye color, blood type, and that I have no genetic diseases; but mainly it is useful for seeing who I match and finding out some information about my ethnicity. These sites do not have my social security number or birth date, plus most do not have my credit card numbers on file. Maybe it is a clever criminal wanting to know if there are any close matches to his DNA? Or a foreign country wanting to know if someone whose DNA they have is an American spy?

Hacker image from a photo  by Jefferson Santos on Unsplash

We have been suffering through several days of GEDmatch being down, due to being hacked, with no end it sight [UPDATE 25-Jul-2020: it’s back, yeah!]. I hate not being able to run some of their great tools. At least you can ask matches from Ancestry to upload to Family Tree DNA or MyHeritage in order to get the one to one comparisons.

The DNA Geek, Leah Larkin, reported that there have also been fishing emails sent pretending to be from MyHeritage where the G is replaced by a Q! So please don’t fall for any of those see https://thednageek.com/phishing-attempt-at-myheritage/

My Google News Alert had an article that claimed that Ancestry.com user information had been exposed via a cloud hack through the Family Tree Maker Software: https://siliconangle.com/2020/07/21/family-tree-maker-exposes-records-online-via-unsecured-elasticsearch-database/ However MacKeiv Software claims this is not so, and that they spotted the vulnerability before anyone was hacked: https://support.mackiev.com/349796-FAMILY-TREE-MAKER—Data-Security-Article

So I decided that having the same password at all my genealogy sites was not a good idea any more, even though I only use that password for genealogy and DNA. So I went around changing my passwords on those sites yesterday. It’s probably a good practice to change them every six months or so anyway.

Here is the email received yesterday from GEDmatch:
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The Genetic Detective, Gedmatch, and me

I am loving watching the Genetic Detective on ABC every Tuesday night and I really hope you are too. It is a new true crime series starring CeCe Moore which demonstrates the use of genetic genealogy to catch rapists and murderers. As someone who uses similar techniques to solve unknown parentage cases, it gives me great joy to see this show and share it with family. I even announced its debut to my blog’s mailing list.

If you do not get ABC in your television package, you can view it on HULU or wait a week and click here to see it on the ABC website.

It was a lecture by CeCe back in 2012 that got me started on this DNA pathway. After I solved a few of my own family mysteries, I started writing this blog and helping others with their quests. Now I even teach at the i4GG conferences she organizes every year (videos available).

What I hope my friends and family get from this show is a better understanding of how DNA sleuthing works and why they should upload their DNA results and a family tree to GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA to help solve crimes like these. What is most enjoyable for me, is that each week so far there has been a slightly different genealogy challenge for solving the case.

Photo of my TV showing my Compact Segment Mapper at Gedmatch from episode 5

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Staying Home

As someone who has worked part-time from her house for some 20 years now, there is not much difference in my routines just because we are self-quarantined. Important for me is structure. Regular times I am in my home office and a time window where I will answer the phone (but I way prefer emails).

The new adventure is ordering grocery deliveries online. Planning many days in advance is best, since store deliveries are backed up. We just got our Costco order made about 5 days ago. So happy! Also you can get weekly deliveries of vegetables from various services. I just got my first vegetable order from Imperfect Foods and they all look fine to me. Slightly different sizes of onions and one broken stalk on a celery bunch but perfecty edible. [UPDATE 25-Mar-2020: my farmfreshtoyou box just came, what gorgeous produce! If you try them, please use my refer a friend code KITT4641 ]

Screenshot from kibbutzing a bridge match online at BridgeBase.com (BBO)

The other thing to get used to is playing bridge online at BridgeBase.com rather than in person at the weekly game at our club.

If you are a Beta tester at Ancestry DNA there is a wonderful new feature to play with where you can link your DNA relatives to your own tree. As soon as more people have that I will blog about it.

By the way I have been posting one flower picture a day from my garden on Instagram and from there to FaceBook.
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Rootstech 2020 is Happening Now

Rootstech is a huge, amazing genealogy conference organized by FamilySearch.org that is going on now through Saturday in Salt Lake City. This is the 10th anniversary of the conference that should be on every genealogist’s bucket list. Sadly I am missing it again this year. If you go to one, be sure to leave some time to do research in the best family history library in this country, and perhaps anywhere, just one block from the conference.

For those of us who cannot go in person, the organizers generously live stream one session in each time slot at rootstech.org (scroll down for the schedule) and for those of us who can’t watch live, they then make those presentations available at rootstech.org/category/2020-rootstech-sessions

Wednesdays live stream sessions online

If you want more, you can purchase a virtual pass and see the 30 classes that are videotaped at your leisure for a very reasonable price at rootstech.org/salt-lake/virtual-pass

Rootstech wrote a blog post celebrating the history of the conference at rootstech.org/blog/rootstech-then-and-now, but they failed to mention my wonderful brother Shipley Munson who shepherded it from a large conference to the gigantic must-go-to conference it is today. So I will celebrate him here. Thanks for everything Ship!

Shipley Munson and A.J.Jacobs on screen at Rootstech 2016

UPDATE 27 Feb 2020: Another way to follow along is to read some of the blog posts Randy Seaver lists here: geneamusings.com/2020/02/rootstech-2020-salt-lake-city-blog.html

Shameful DNA reporting by PBS

These days too many media outlets seem to go for sensationalism rather than facts, but not usually PBS. I watch their news hour every night and expect it to have thoughtful, in depth reporting, unlike the sound bites from many other news shows.

Thursday night’s piece on the privacy issues from DNA testing was a travesty. This misleading headline on their web site about that segment is not what I have come to expect from PBS – “Genetic genealogy can help solve cold cases. It can also accuse the wrong person.”

No, genetic genealogy does not put the wrong people behind bars. Autosomal DNA is just a very accurate tip that points police to a person or family. In order to make an arrest they next collect the suspect’s DNA from discarded items to see if it is a match to the crime scene DNA. It is those results they take to court, not the genetic genealogy theory.

The wrong person accused scenario that they refer to happened several years ago from using Y DNA, not the full autosomal DNA currently used by genetic genealogists. PBS interviewed Michael Usry about his experience of being suspected of a horrific murder because his Y matched the crime scene and even he suggested that it was not such a bad thing to catch murderers and rapists by using the DNA of their cousins. Click here for an article from 2015 about the Michael Usry case that explains what happened back then.

Note that the Y is only one of 46 chromosomes (in 23 pairs but Y pairs with X) and it is the only one which changes extremely slowly. Therefore can reach back many hundreds of years. For example I have a cousin who has a perfect Y match with a 5th cousin where their common ancestor lived in the 1600s. So clearly, the Y is just not useful for law enforcement searches.

CeCe Moore explaining how autosomal DNA led to a killer – screenshot from PBS News Hour Wednesday Nov 6

Wednesday night’s episode (click here) did a wonderful job of explaining how autosomal DNA is used to solve cold cases. PBS interviewed both famous genetic genealogist Cece Moore and Curtis Rogers, the founder of GEDmatch. I even made my husband watch it so he could better understand what I do when I help people with their DNA results. He enjoyed it.

So I was expecting Thursday’s follow up episode on genetic privacy to explain to me why so many people are worried about this issue. Personally if any of my cousins are violent criminals I am happy to out them, but I get that people did not expect this use when they uploaded to genealogy sites, so their permission is needed.

Instead Thursday’s show was highly inaccurate. So I wrote this blog post… will I cancel my PBS membership? We will see.

 

UPDATE 8-Nov-2019: A number of readers have pointed out the glaring innacuracy of the November 7 episode claiming “that Brian Dripps had been convicted of killing Angie Dodge and is serving a life sentence” when in fact the case has not even gone to trial yet. Although he confessed, he is now pleading not guilty. A recent non-sensationalist summary of that case is here: https://www.ishinews.com/events/unraveling-the-twisted-case-of-angie-dodge/

UPDATE 9-Nov-2019: The PBS NewsHour has corrected the Brian Dripps statement in November 7 episode on their website and also retracted the incorrect information towards the end of their November 8 episode.