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Security Gets Political With Hacks, Darknet Sales

As presidential campaigns get into full swing, neither party is immune to online chicanery -- and neither are voters

With the Republicans meeting in Cleveland this week, political news dominated the headlines. So it will surprise exactly no one that security news turned political as well.

At a glance, there were a number of incidents where politics and security intersected.

  • Approximately 191 million American voter records were put up for sale on Darknet on a state-by-state basis for 0.5 Bitcoin ($330) each.
  • The hack of the Democratic National Committee's servers in June included personal data of celebrity donors including Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, according to press reports this week.
  • A security vendor set up unsecured Wi-Fi networks to entice Republican convention-goers in and around Cleveland. The familiar trick worked: More than 1,200 logged in to play Pokemon Go, check email and browse porn; 68 percent of attached users had their identities exposed.

The millions of voter records for sale appear to be the same ones discovered late last year by MacKeeper security researcher Chris Roberts. The seller, "DataDirect," uploaded screenshots to The Real Deal Marketplace, a commercial site on Darknet, or the Dark Web, a subset of the Internet accessible only through the anonymized Tor network.

DataDirect's screenshots have the same data structure as those Roberts found and posted. The data fields contain personally identifying information: first, middle and last names; date of birth; address; and voting history. Hackread first reported the sale of the stolen data this week.

Law enforcement views such acts as no big deal, Roberts told Dark Reading. "They say, 'We can look all that up in the phone book,' but these records have date-of-birth information, which allows them to authenticate people," Roberts explained. "When it's concentrated like this, it's even more powerful."

Knowing an individual's political party and their location can help make phishing emails more effective, according to Dan Palumbo, research director of the Digital Citizens Alliance, a consumer oriented coalition focused on education and Web safety. "It won't look so out of place to the recipient."

When Roberts first discovered the voter records in December, he was chagrined to find there are no state or federal laws against posting them online. In contrast, Mexico has federal laws that prohibit leaking voter registration files, taking them across borders or using them for personal gain. "We don't have anything on the books like that and I'd like to see that change," Roberts said.

It's unclear whether DataDirect copied the records Roberts discovered, bought them from a third-party or acquired them by some other means. What is clear is that the agency that compiled the voter records, or the third-party they used to perform the work, was extremely lax in its security. "The groups or commissions in charge of these databases need to do a better job protecting these records," Palumbo said. "It needs to start there."

Government organizations can also do a better job of setting security benchmarks with third-parties they use on specialty projects, said Yogev Mizrahi, cybersecurity leader for security concern Hacked-DB. And security measures can fail when that external company puts the project's server in a public cloud or exposes the staging environment by not using even basic best practices, Mizrahi added in an email to Dark Reading.

This issue gets compounded if a government service or website asks for personal information as condition for completing a process or a login. By giving up more private information, attackers then can more easily exploit users for their own ends, Mizrahi said.

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Terry Sweeney is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered technology, networking, and security for more than 20 years. He was part of the team that started Dark Reading and has been a contributor to The Washington Post, Crain's New York Business, Red Herring, ... View Full Bio

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