Information on 1.2 billion people uncovered in massive data leak

Four billion records on 1.2 billion people was found on an unsecured Elasticsearch server

Four billion records on 1.2 billion people was found on an unsecured Elasticsearch server. Researchers Bob Diachenko of SecurityDiscovery and Vinny Troia of Data Viper found the four terabyte data trove amasses from four billion user accounts.

"A total count of unique people across all datasets reached more than 1.2 billion people, making this one of the largest data leaks from a single source organisation in history. The leaked data contained names, email addresses, phone numbers, LinkedIN and Facebook profile information," wrote Vinny Troia.

"What makes this data leak unique is that it contains data sets that appear to originate from two different data enrichment companies."

The discovered Elasticsearch server containing all of the information was unprotected and accessible via web browser at http://35.199.58.125:9200. No password or authentication of any kind was needed to access or download all of the data, wrote Troia.

That so much information can be concentrated in one place and moved around so easily is the blessing and the curse of the information age, commented Jonathan Knudsen, senior security strategist at Synopsys.

"It takes only one bad decision by one person to result in massive data exposure. Organisations worldwide should respond by finding out where they keep their data, how that data is being transferred, how long it is kept and why, and what protections are in place," he said.

The type of data exposed is not sensitive in nature, but it can be gold dust for an attacker, said Keith Geraghty, solutions architect at Edgescan.

"The data will allow for large scale phishing campaigns against users. The attack path will likely be the usual methods of delivery such as emails, profile impersonations and scam phone calls. Also we may see widespread brute force attempts made on applications which use email as the method of login," he warned.

Accidental exposure of data in the cloud continues to be one of the leading causes of data breaches, and it happens with cloud service providers and with all types of SaaS applications, said Ray Canzanese, threat research director at Netskope. 

According to Canzanese, these generally stem from three underlying issues:

First, there are a lot of cloud apps out there. Understanding how to manage identity and access in all of the apps you use is very challenging, especially for the more complex ones.

Second, it is hard to know when you have made a mistake. Cloud apps don’t understand your intentions or whether you didn’t intend to share that internal report with the world, or that this port should have been exposed to a much smaller IP address range.

Third, cloud apps have largely placed access control in the hands of the user, which magnifies the first two challenges. Many users don’t understand how to manage identity and access in all of the apps your enterprise uses – both sanctioned and unsanctioned. Most organisations don’t have any controls in place to check to see whether they have made any mistakes, and often it takes just one person to make a mistake.

"The question is just how motivated and dedicated your adversary is. All they have to do is find the exposure. This is one of the key challenges that security vendors are working to solve today – how to make it easier to configure and audit access to prevent the mistakes that lead to data breaches," said Canzanese.

"Once again the People Data Labs breach is a win for the black market and underground crime syndicates, as a treasure trove of personal information is available to criminals," said Sam Curry, chief security officer at Cybereason.

"Over the years, hundreds of billions of online accounts have been exposed, meaning that personal information on every human on the face of the earth has been stolen 20x or more."

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