Mystery Server Found to Host Private Data in the Open for 1.2 Billion People

Personal data for 1.2 billion people was discovered in an
open Elasticsearch server. It’s unclear who owned the server, how the data got there,
who had access to it, and how long sat in the open, free for anyone to access.

The more than 4 terabytes of data was discovered by
security researchers from Data Viper. Unlike other troves, this simple database
didn’t hold user names and passwords, but personal data, such as names, email
addresses, phone numbers, LinkedIn, and Facebook profiles, scrapped off the
Internet.

This type of information is collected online from social
media accounts that allow public access, and it seems that there’s no shortage
of people who don’t know that the whole world has access to their data, which
most of the time includes stuff you wouldn’t knowingly give strangers.

“For a very low price, data enrichment companies
allow you to take a single piece of information on a person (such as a name or
email address), and expand (or enrich) that user profile to include hundreds of
additional new data points of information,” says
security researcher Vinny Troia. “Collected information on a single person
can include information such as household sizes, finances and income, political
and religious preferences, and even a person’s preferred social
activities.”

It turned out that few companies provide data
“enrichment” as a service, and most of the data found in the Elasticsearch
server was identified as belonging to People Data Labs (PDL). One interesting point
is that the PDL data contains education histories, which the mystery server
doesn’t list.

Finally, since PDL denies suffering a breach, it’s
challenging to find someone accountable. The open Elasticsearch server doesn’t
seem to have any link to PDL, and Google Cloud hosted the information. This
also means it’s impossible to know, without a court order, who set it up. The
FBI and other law agencies won’t get involved unless a crime was committed, and
technically that’s not the case, at least not yet.

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