Thousands of Americans with classified security clearance had their personal information exposed over the weekend by a misconfigured Amazon server. Around the same time, another unsecured Amazon server exposed the data of millions of Time Warner Cable (TWC) customers.
Files exposing employees with security clearance, in some cases Top Secret, were traced back to private securirty firm TigerSwan. TigerSwan put the blame on TalentPen, a third-party vendor used to handle new job applicants, for not properly securing thousands of workers' sensitive data.
The collection of 9,402 documents, most of them resumes and applications to work for TigerSwan, was discovered by UpGuard Director of Cyber Risk Research Chris Vickery. The files were stored in an Amazon S3 bucket that lacked password protection.
"The exposed documents belong almost exclusively to US military veterans, providing a high level of detail about their past duties, including elite or sensitive defense and intelligence roles," explains UpGuard in a report on the discovery. Its Cyber Risk Team informed TigerSwan of the exposure on July 24, 2017; the files were left unsecured until August 24.
The files contained sensitive information including security clearances, driver's license numbers, passport numbers, at least partial Social Security Numbers. Some documents were resumes from Iraqi and Afghan nationals who worked with US forces and government agencies in their home countries and could be in danger if their personal information was exposed.
The work histories exposed in the leak include defense, intelligence, law enforcement, linguistic, and logistical experts who worked for the United Nations, US Secret Service, the Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security.
"The potential damage from the TalentPen data leak makes damage from the unauthorized access of accounts pale in comparison," says Brad Keller, senior director of third-party strategy at Prevalent. "This disclosure could be extremely damaging to the individuals involved and highlights the very real need to fully assess your third parties."
TigerSwan, which stopped working with TalentPen in 2017, does not assume any of the burden.
"At no time was there ever a data breach of any TigerSwan server," the company reports in a blog post. "All resume files in TigerSwan’s possession are secure. We take seriously the failure of TalentPen to ensure the security of this information and regret any inconvenience or exposure our former recruiting vendor may have caused these applicants."
However, some experts put equal blame on both TigerSwan and TalentPen for failing to take proper precautions.
"TigerSwan is as much at fault here as TalentPen," notes Keller. "They chose to outsource this service and are accountable for TalentPen's failures … what where they doing to make sure TalentPen had adequate security controls and operational procedures in place?"
Around the same time, MacKeeper's Kromtech Security Center separately discovered software and service provider BroadSoft had been keeping records for more than four million TWC customers on Amazon servers without a password. Experts note AWS buckets are protected by default and the data was left publicly available by engineers who forgot to close the configuration.
The most damaging information exposed included internal development data like SQL database dumps, access logs, and code with access credentials. The two repositories also contained records and reports for Broadsoft clients using apps including Phone 2 Go and the TWC app.
"The only way for this to stop happening is for large organizations to gain a real-time understanding of which third parties have weak security controls in place so that they can work together to mitigate potential vulnerabilities before they’re exploited," says Fred Kneip, CEO of CyberGRX.
UpGuard emphasizes the urgent responsibility for businesses to protect their data from exposure caused by misconfiguration.
"Such cloud leaks can be as damaging as any hack, without the benefit of an external culprit for whom blame can be apportioned; the leak is the result of internal process failures that allow sensitive data to be exposed," the company says.
Amazon recently released a tool called Macie designed to identify, classify, and protect data in S3 storage. Leaks have become more prevalent as businesses move their data to the cloud. The service goes through data stored in S3, gives each data object a business value, and watches for suspicious activity.
"Macie's DLP capabilities for S3 buckets could have helped identify sensitive PII such as email addresses and Social Security numbers," explains RedLock cofounder and CEO Varun Badhwar. "However, the challenge for large organizations like Time Warner is that they have hundreds of S3 buckets across dozens of cloud environments, and very little context that can help them prioritize and remediate alerts from siloed security solutions, such as Amazon Macie."