DNA-SeAl: Sensitivity Levels to Optimize the Performance of Privacy-Preserving DNA Alignment

Maria Fernandes, Jeremie Decouchant, Marcus Volp, Francisco M. Couto, Paulo Esteves-Verissimo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The advent of next-generation sequencing (NGS) machines made DNA sequencing cheaper, but also put pressure on the genomic life-cycle, which includes aligning millions of short DNA sequences, called reads, to a reference genome. On the performance side, efficient algorithms have been developed, and parallelized on public clouds. On the privacy side, since genomic data are utterly sensitive, several cryptographic mechanisms have been proposed to align reads more securely than the former, but with a lower performance. This paper presents DNA-SeAl a novel contribution to improving the privacy × performance product in current genomic workflows. First, building on recent works that argue that genomic data needs to be treated according to a threat-risk analysis, we introduce a multi-level sensitivity classification of genomic variations designed to prevent the amplification of possible privacy attacks. We show that the usage of sensitivity levels reduces future re-identification risks, and that their partitioning helps prevent linkage attacks. Second, after extending this classification to reads, we show how to align and store reads using different security levels. To do so, DNA-SeAl extends a recent reads filter to classify unaligned reads into sensitivity levels, and adapts existing alignment algorithms to the reads sensitivity. We show that using DNA-SeAl allows high performance gains whilst enforcing high privacy levels in hybrid cloud environments.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)907-915
Number of pages9
JournalIEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2021-03-16

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Health Information Management


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