Researchers have discovered a misconfigured database containing 18GB of information, including 20.8 million personal records. Most of the individuals affected are in Ecuador, which to put the leak into context, has a population of only 16.6 million; 6.7 million are children.
The difference between the number of records and Ecuador's population can be attributed to duplicate and older information, which includes data of deceased individuals. Noam Rotem and Ran Locar, both researchers with vpnMentor, discovered the unprotected database on an Elasticsearch server, which appear to be owned by Ecuadorian consulting company Novaestrat.
It seems the database held information pulled from outside sources including Ecuadorian government registries, the Aeade automotive association, and the Biess Ecuadorian bank. Data taken from both public sources and private databases was collected in the unsecured database.
Researchers unearthed a range of personal data belonging to Ecuadorian citizens: full name, gender, birthdate, place of birth, home and email address, phone numbers (work, home, and mobile), marital status, level of education, date of marriage, and date of death, if applicable. Individuals are identified by a ten-digit national identification number called a "cédula."
An investigation to validate the data led researchers to financial data linked to accounts held with Biess, including account status, balance, credit type, amount financed, and the location and contact information for the person's local Biess branch, vpnMentor explains in a blog post.
What the team found particularly concerning is the extent of detailed family information stored in the database. Researchers were able to view the full names of the mother, father, and spouse, as well as the cédula for each person. They found 6.7 million entries for children under the age of 18, including name, cédula, place of birth, gender, and home address, ZDNet reports.
Further, the leak exposed detailed employment data: employer name and location, employer tax identification number, job title, salary information, and the start and end dates for each position. Researchers also found automotive records that could be linked to car owners through their taxpayer ID number; leaked data includes the car's make, model, license plate number, date of purchase, most recent registration date, and other technical data about the car.
Companies Exposed, Too
On top of the troves of personal data exposed, the leak compromised potentially sensitive information belonging to Ecuadorian companies. Researchers were able to view many businesses' Ecuadorian taxpayer identification number, address, and contact details, as well as each firm's legal representative and their contact information.
VpnMentor and security industry experts worry about the long-term privacy implications for those affected by the incident. As the team points out, the personally identifiable information compromised in this leak could put people at risk of phishing attacks and phone scams; the extent of data exposed could put organizations at risk of corporate espionage or fraud.
While the industry is no stranger to cloud mishaps and data leaks, some are concerned about the extent of records compromised. As Javvak Malik, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, points out, this is another in "a very long list" of cloud-based databases leaking information.
"But this is particularly significant due to the number of records and the sensitivity of the data," he adds. "Most troubling perhaps being the data of children being stolen," which can be used to set up fake identities or take out loans. Before creating such large databases, he says, companies and governments should ask whether such a collection is necessary or legal. They should determine if they can properly secure it and assess the impact of a potential leak.
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