Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint

6/19/2019
04:45 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

With GDPR's 'Right of Access,' Who Really Has Access?

How a security researcher learned organizations willingly hand over sensitive data with little to no identity verification.

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has a provision called "Right of Access," which states individuals have a right to access their personal data. What happens when companies holding this data don't properly verify identities before handing it over?

This became the crux of a case study by James Pavur, DPhil student at Oxford University, who sought to determine how organizations handle requests for highly sensitive information under the Right of Access. To do this, he used GDPR Subject Access Requests to obtain as much data as possible about his fiancée – with her permission, of course – from more than 150 companies.

Shortly after GDPR went into effect last May, Pavur became curious about how social engineers might be able to exploit the Right of Access. "It seemed companies were in a panic over how to implement GDPR," he explains. Out of curiosity he sent a few Subject Access Requests, which individuals can make verbally or in writing to ask for access to their information under GDPR.

In these early requests Pavur only asked for his own data from about 20 companies. He found many didn't ask for sufficient ID before giving it away. Many asked for extensions – GDPR allows 60 days – before sending it because they didn't have processes in place to handle requests. The initial survey took place in fall of 2018, when GDPR was just getting into full swing, Pavur says.

Phase two came in January, when he decided to do a broader experiment requesting his fiancée's information. Over three to four months, Pavur submitted requests to businesses across different sizes and industries to obtain a range of sensitive data, from typical sensitive information like addresses and credit card numbers, to more esoteric data like travel itineraries.

He went into the experiment with three types of data: his fiancée's full name, an old phone number of hers he found online, and a generic email address ([email protected]). All of these, he notes, are things social engineers could easily find. "The threshold for starting the attack was very low," he says. "Every success increases the credibility of your results in the future." Pavur requested her personal data using these initial pieces of information; as companies responded with things he asked for, he could tailor future requests to be better.

"I tried to pretend like I didn't know much about my fiancée," he continues. "I tried to make it as realistic as possible … tried to not allow my knowledge about her to bias me."

Compared to the early stages of his experiment, Pavur found when he requested his fiancée's information, businesses were better at handling the process. Still, the responses were varied, and there wasn't a consistent way of responding to Subject Access Requests, he says.

"I sort of expected that companies would try to verify the identity by using something they already know," he says. For example, he thought they might only accept an email address linked to a registered account. "I thought that was the best mechanism for verifying accounts."

More than 20 out of 150 companies revealed some sort of sensitive information, he found. Pavur was able to get biographical information, passport number, a history of hotels she stayed at; he was also able to verify whether she had accounts with certain businesses, he notes. The means of verifying his fiancée's identity varied by industry: retail companies asked what her last purchase was; travel companies and airlines asked for passport information.

Interestingly, some companies started out strong with requests for identity verification, then caved when Pavur said he didn't feel comfortable providing it. One company asked for a passport number to verify identity; when he refused, they accepted a postmarked envelope. Some businesses improved their verification over time, he adds, but mistakes are still being made: a handful of organizations accidentally deleted his fiancée's account when asked for data. He points to a need for businesses to feel comfortable denying suspicious GDPR requests.

Pavur will be presenting the details of his case study this August at Black Hat USA in a presentation "GDPArrrrr: Using Privacy Laws to Steal Identities."

Related Content:

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Mobile Banking Malware Up 50% in First Half of 2019
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/17/2020
Active Directory Needs an Update: Here's Why
Raz Rafaeli, CEO and Co-Founder at Secret Double Octopus,  1/16/2020
New Attack Campaigns Suggest Emotet Threat Is Far From Over
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/16/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-20391
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
An invalid memory access flaw is present in libyang before v1.0-r3 in the function resolve_feature_value() when an if-feature statement is used inside a bit. Applications that use libyang to parse untrusted input yang files may crash.
CVE-2019-20392
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
An invalid memory access flaw is present in libyang before v1.0-r1 in the function resolve_feature_value() when an if-feature statement is used inside a list key node, and the feature used is not defined. Applications that use libyang to parse untrusted input yang files may crash.
CVE-2019-20393
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
A double-free is present in libyang before v1.0-r1 in the function yyparse() when an empty description is used. Applications that use libyang to parse untrusted input yang files may be vulnerable to this flaw, which would cause a crash or potentially code execution.
CVE-2019-20394
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
A double-free is present in libyang before v1.0-r3 in the function yyparse() when a type statement in used in a notification statement. Applications that use libyang to parse untrusted input yang files may be vulnerable to this flaw, which would cause a crash or potentially code execution.
CVE-2019-20395
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
A stack consumption issue is present in libyang before v1.0-r1 due to the self-referential union type containing leafrefs. Applications that use libyang to parse untrusted input yang files may crash.