Can Data Breaches Kill?

When data is sensitive enough, its exposure has the potential to be fatal.



Data breaches have long threatened the identities of individuals whose data was stolen by pilfering cybercriminals. But, in some cases, the breach of sensitive data can put far more than just the credit histories of victims at risk. In the right set of circumstances, a data breach can put people's lives at risk.

As far as the security community knows, there has been no documented case where breached private details have proved fatal. But the recent exposure of sensitive information held by more than 70 different U.S. law enforcement agencies by Anonymous provides a perfect example of the type of information that could put a breach victim's life at risk.

The group nabbed and made public the personal information of hundreds of law enforcement officers via BitTorrent, as well as the names and information of police informants for many of the departments hit in the attack.

"It's certainly some pretty heavy-duty data that they got access to this time, very different from the typical user names and passwords that they publish," says Josh Shaul, CTO of database security firm Application Security. "We don't know exactly what happened, but we know their MO. When it's Anonymous and Lulzsec, it's almost always simple injection to get to the inside and extract some data. A lot of those files were not stored in databases, but they very likely used SQL injection to get to a database and then used database vulnerabilities to get to the sensitive files that they then extracted in the end. I think they got to really sensitive data because that data was completely accessible."

As Shaul and several security experts acknowledged, information like the data dumped on BitTorrent by Anonymous could put people's lives in danger. Police informants depend on their anonymity to provide confidential information to law enforcement officers, and they count on the agencies they work with to keep a tight lid on their personal details and connections to law enforcement.

Read the rest of this article on Dark Reading.

At a full-day virtual event, InformationWeek and Dark Reading editors will talk with security experts about the causes and mistakes that lead to security breaches, both from the technology perspective and from the people perspective. It happens Aug. 25. Register now.

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