80 Million American Households Exposed on an Unidentified Database

80 Million American Households Exposed on an Unidentified Database

An enormous security breach was discovered at the end of April affecting more than 80 million American households. It is yet another example in a string of breaches demonstrating the vulnerability of online database platforms. The owner of the database is yet to be identified and researchers at VPNMentor, who discovered the breach, are asking for assistance from the public to help them find the owner.

The good news is that the database did not contain credit card information, social security numbers or passwords. However, it was thoroughly unprotected, hosted on a Microsoft cloud server, and required no password to access the data files.

VPNMentor Found the Unprotected Database by Accident

Hacker experts at VPNMentor, Ran Locar and Noam Rotem found the database by accident. VPNMentor researchers were running a routine web mapping project, looking for holes in web systems. They were using a port scanning tool which locates weaknesses and finds data leaks. When they find a database with leaks, they typically contact the owner so immediate action can be taken to correct the problem. But in this case, the database did not identify its owner. Even though there is an IP address associated with this database, the researchers say it does not necessarily lead to its owner.

A Staggering Number of Households Were Exposed

The fact that 80 million US households were exposed in this breach is very troubling. This is almost 65 per cent of the entire number of American households. The database contains 24 gigabytes of highly detailed information, including full addresses, names, birth dates, ages, and residences.

The coded information which is contained in numerical values appears to relate to marital status, income, gender, and dwelling category. Since each database entry ends with “score” and “member code” and everyone listed appears to be over the age of 40, researchers believe that the database owner might be a mortgage, insurance or healthcare company. The fact that social security numbers are missing from the database, as well as payment information and account numbers, makes it unlikely that the owner is a bank or broker.

For now, the unsecured database is offline. Researchers did not download all the data, although they did verify some segments in the cache for accuracy. It was more important to protect the already exposed accounts from further invasion.

Hoping for Some Help from the Public

VPNMentor researchers stress that even though the database did not contain social security numbers or credit card information, there is still a significant risk of nefarious activities with the data that was exposed. Affected households are vulnerable to phishing scams, fraud, identity theft and possibly even home invasions since addresses are included. They sent out a plea to the public for assistance in identifying the owner of the database so that steps can be taken as soon as possible to secure the data.

This is not the first time Noam Rotem has been involved in uncovering a potentially serious data breach. Earlier this year, he discovered a very damaging vulnerability in the Amadeus online air travel booking system. The platform’s security vulnerability would have made it easy for hackers to access the database, alter customer bookings and steal airline mileage credits.

TalkTalk Hackers Jailed

TalkTalk Hackers Jailed

Data Breach Caused £77 Million in Losses

On 16 and 21 October 2015 Matthew Hanley hacked the TalkTalk website and stole personal details of over 150,000 customers. This included their full names, postal addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and banking details. Hanley handed the data over to Connor Allsopp to sell to Daniel Kelley, who had the intention of committing fraud with the information. Kelley then tried to extort 465 bitcoins (around US$2 million) from Dino Harding – the CEO of the company at the time.

Considerable damages

TalkTalk suffered massive losses. The breach cost the company a staggering £77 Million in financial losses, including a fine of £400,000 levied on the company by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for their failure to carry out fundamental security measures required to prevent a security breach such as this from happening. This is not to mention the implications the attack has on future business for the company. Who wants to subscribe to a vulnerable supplier? The attack also caused severe distress and misery to the people whose confidential information were stolen and then passed on to a third party.

Two individuals of extraordinary talent

The court case took place on Monday, 19 November at Old Bailey where Judge Anuja Dhir presided. The Judge said that it is tragic that the two hackers have such extraordinary talent. During the trial, Matthew Hanley (23), and Connor Allsopp (21) admitted to the crimes against TalkTalk. Until his arrest on October 2015, Hanley was an unwavering hacker – he was fully aware that what he was doing is illegal, and of the risk involved in it. The hacker was sentenced to one year in prison and his associate Allsopp received an eight-month sentence. Described by Judge Dhir as a ‘dedicated hacker’ Hanley’s sentence was longer than Allsop’s who ostensibly played a lesser role in the cybercrime.