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Operational Security //

Data Leakage

10:05 AM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb

Almost 1 Billion Emails With Personal Information Left Unsecured

As leaks go, it's a whopper, and a so-called email validation service provider is to blame.

Huge amounts of leaked customer related data have been showing up all over the place.

First there were the Collection series, where something like 700 million identities were up for sale on a site on the dark web. But the latest in the series of leaking data may be the largest ever seen.

Bob Diachenko, a researcher at Security Discovery, found an unsecured MongoDB database belonging to a so-called email validation service provider, verifications.io. The database was totally unprotected, and was easily accessed by anyone.

The database is a collection of emails (808,539,939 in total) combined with additional information. The additional stuff includes phone numbers, dates of birth, physical addresses, gender, IP addresses and employer details.

In his blog, the researcher said that not all the emails contain personally identifiable information, but that a majority do.

DynaRisk also took a look at the database. They said that, "The original analysis (carried out by a number of other researchers) is correct and these sources appear to have analyzed the 'mainEmailDatabase' file that was leaked and found 808 million records. DynaRisk analyzed the three more databases from the same leak, namely 'EmailScrub, PyEmail, VerifiedEmails' which were to be found on the same server. […] Having now had a chance to clean all of the combined data, there are an additional 191 million bringing the total of email addresses to 982,864,972."

A billion email addresses. Just wow.

Diachenko then teamed up with Troy Hunt of Have I Been Pwned (HIBP) to see if the data was an entirely new unique set.

He concluded that this leak wasn't a aggregation of previous breaches, as has been the case with recent leaks reported by Hunt. Hunt has gone on to add the addresses to the HIBP data set.

Verifications.io seems to be just that, a way for spammers and other of their ilk to try out any lists of addresses they may have to see if they connect to anyone. In using a third party, the spammers will bypass any checkpoints that may built into the mail systems and not be identified by them.

The verifying service will have its own list of valid emails which may be cross-referenced against the spammer's list, and results given to the spammer. The service may try other means to assure validity, such as doing their own trial spamming.

When Diachenko tried to tell them about the database, he was told the data exposed was public data. He was then met with silence and finally the website for the company disappeared from the net. Sounds like a totes legit enterprise, right?

Adam Laub, SVP Product Management of Stealthbits Technologies, told Security Now that, "Given the frequency of data breach events and the quantity of information that is already available on the dark web and elsewhere for billions of people around the world, this really is nothing more than a reminder that your information is out there for those that want it for good or for bad.

"As we work towards making the keepers of our information more accountable for its security," he went on, "we need to acknowledge and remind ourselves that the security of our data and our identities is really on each of us individually. This is not a pessimistic viewpoint, but rather a realistic viewpoint based on the world we live in."

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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