23andMe Blames Users for Recent Data Breach as It’s Hit With Dozens of Lawsuits

It’s been nearly two years since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as the grim milestone looms and winter drags on, the two nations are locked in a grueling standoff. In order to “break military parity” with Russia, Ukraine’s top general says that Kyiv needs an inspired military innovation that equals the magnitude of inventing gunpowder to decide the conflict in the process of advancing modern warfare.

If you made some New Year’s resolutions related to digital security (it’s not too late!), check out our rundown of the most significant software updates to install right now, including fixes from Google for nearly 100 Android bugs. It’s close to impossible to be completely anonymous online, but there are steps you can take to dramatically enhance your digital privacy. And if you’ve been considering turning on Apple’s extra-secure Lockdown Mode, it’s not as hard to enable or as onerous to use as you might think.

If you’re just not quite ready to say goodbye to 2023, take a look back at WIRED’s highlights (or lowlights) of the most dangerous people on the internet last year and the worst hacks that upended digital security.

But wait, there’s more! Each week, we round up the security and privacy news we didn’t break or cover in depth ourselves. Click the headlines to read the full stories, and stay safe out there.

23andMe said at the beginning of October that attackers had infiltrated some of its users’ accounts and abused this access to scrape personal data from a larger subset of users through the company’s opt-in social sharing service known as DNA Relatives. By December, the company disclosed that the number of compromised accounts was roughly 14,000 and admitted that personal data from 6.9 million DNA Relatives users had been impacted. Now, facing more than 30 lawsuits over the breach—even after tweaking its terms of service to make legal claims against the company more difficult—the company said in a letter to some individuals that “users negligently recycled and failed to update their passwords following … past security incidents, which are unrelated to 23andMe.” This references 23andMe’s long-standing assessment that attackers compromised the 14,000 user accounts through “credential stuffing,” the process of accessing accounts using usernames and passwords compromised in other data breaches from other services that people have reused on multiple digital accounts. “Therefore, the incident was not a result of 23andMe’s alleged failure to maintain reasonable security measures,” the company wrote in the letter.

“Rather than acknowledge its role in this data security disaster, 23andMe has apparently decided to leave its customers out to dry while downplaying the seriousness of these events,” Hassan Zavareei, one of the lawyers representing victims who received the letter, told TechCrunch. “23andMe knew or should have known that many consumers use recycled passwords and thus that 23andMe should have implemented some of the many safeguards available to protect against credential stuffing—especially considering that 23andMe stores personal identifying information, health information, and genetic information on its platform.”

Russia’s war—and cyberwar—in Ukraine has for years produced novel hybrids of hacking and physical attacks. Here’s another: Ukrainian officials this week said that they had blocked multiple Ukrainian civilians’ security cameras that had been hacked by the Russian military and used to target recent missile strikes on the capital of Kyiv. Ukraine’s SBU security service says the Russian hackers went so far as to redirect the cameras and stream their footage to YouTube. According to the SBU, that footage then likely aided Russia’s targeting in its bombardment on Tuesday of Kyiv, as well as the Eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, with more than a hundred drones and missiles that killed five Ukrainians and injured well over a hundred. In total, since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the SBU says it’s blocked about 10,000 security cameras to prevent them from being hijacked by Russian forces.

Last month, a Russian cyberattack hit the telecom firm Kyivstar, crippling phone service for millions of people across Ukraine and silencing air raid warnings amid missile strikes in one of the most impactful hacking incidents since Russia’s full-scale invasion began. Now, Illia Vitiuk, the cyber chief of Ukraine’s SBU security service, tells Reuters that the hackers accessed Kyivstar’s network as early as March 2023 and laid in wait before they “completely destroyed the core” of the company in December, wiping thousands of its machines. Vitiuk added that the SBU believes the attack was carried out by Russia’s notorious Sandworm hacking group, responsible for most of the high-impact cyberattacks against Ukraine over the last decade, including the NotPetya worm that spread from Ukraine to the rest of the world to cause $10 billion in total damage. In fact, Vitiuk claims that Sandworm attempted to penetrate a Ukrainian telecom a year earlier but the attack was detected and foiled.

This week in creepy headlines: 404 Media’s Joseph Cox discovered that a Google contractor, Telus, has offered parents $50 to upload videos of their children’s faces, apparently for use as machine learning training data. According to a description of the project Telus posted online, the data collected from the videos would include eyelid shape and skin tone. In a statement to 404, Google said that the videos would be used in the company’s experiments in using video clips as age verification and that the videos would not be collected or stored by Telus but rather by Google—which doesn’t quite reduce the creep factor. “As part of our commitment to delivering age-appropriate experiences and to comply with laws and regulations around the world, we’re exploring ways to help our users verify their age,” Google told 404 in a statement. The experiment represents a slightly unnerving example of how companies like Google may not simply harvest data online to hone AI but may, in some cases, even directly pay users—or their parents—for it.

A decade ago, Wickr was on the short list of trusted software for secure communications. The app’s end-to-end encryption, simple interface, and self-destructive messages made it a go-to for hackers, journalists, drug dealers—and, unfortunately, traders in child sexual abuse materials—seeking surveillance-resistant conversations. But after Amazon acquired Wickr in 2021, it announced in early 2023 that it would be shutting down the service at the end of the year, and it appears to have held to that deadline. Luckily for privacy advocates, end-to-end encryption options have grown over the past decade, from iMessage and WhatsApp to Signal.


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