It’s not easy for businesses to protect their customers’ data these days, particularly when they share it with their partners. When that data is shared, keeping it secure can become a Herculean effort… and sometimes those efforts come up short. That’s when you find yourself reading yet another headline about an information leak that affects millions of people.
On Wednesday Verizon confirmed that the personal data of 6 million customers has leaked online.
The security issue, uncovered by research from cybersecurity firm UpGuard, was caused by a misconfigured security setting on a cloud server due to “human error.”
The error made customer phone numbers, names, and some PIN codes publicly available online. PIN codes are used to confirm the identity of people who call for customer service.
No loss or theft of customer information occurred, Verizon told CNN Tech.
UpGuard — the same company that discovered leaked voter data in June — initially said the error could impact up to 14 million accounts.
Chris Vickery, a researcher at UpGuard, discovered the Verizon data was exposed by NICE Systems, an Israel-based company Verizon was working with to facilitate customer service calls. The data was collected over the last six months.
Vickery alerted Verizon to the leak on June 13. The security hole was closed on June 22.
The incident stemmed from NICE security measures that were not set up properly. The company made a security setting public, instead of private, on an Amazon S3 storage server — a common technology used by businesses to keep data in the cloud. This means Verizon data stored in the cloud was temporarily visible to anyone who had the public link.
ZDNet first reported the breach.
There’s something about this breach that’s more alarming than the number of files, how large those files are, or even how many people were impacted. In addition to name, address, and phone number, some of the Verizon customer data included plain text PINs. With a customer’s other details and a PIN in hand, a criminal could, according to UpGuard, pull off a SIM card swap. That’s where fraudsters trick a wireless carrier into moving a customer’s phone number to a new SIM.
Such scams have cost people thousands of dollars, and they can give an attacker access to sensitive online accounts that have been protected by two-factor authentication. If that second factor is a text message, the SIM card swap will redirect those messages to the criminal.
The security firm analyzed a sample of the data and found some PIN codes were hidden but others were visible next to phone numbers.
UpGuard declined to disclose how the leaked data was discovered.
Dan O’Sullivan, a Cyber Resilience Analyst with UpGuard, said exposed PIN codes is a concern because it allows scammers to access someone’s phone service if they convince a customer service agent they’re the account holder.
“A scammer could receive a two-factor authentication message and potentially change it or alter [the authentication] to his liking,” O’Sullivan said. “Or they could cut off access to the real account holder.”
Verizon customers should update their PIN codes and not use the same one twice, O’Sullivan advises.
The is the latest leak to surface from a misconfigured Amazon S3 storage unit. In June, an analytics firm exposed the data of almost 200 million voters, and earlier this month, an insecure server leaked 3 million WWE fans’ data last week.
Why does this keep happening? Amazon secures these servers by default. This means the errors that occur are due to changes someone makes with a security setting — typically by accident, O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan says the Verizon case highlights how many third-parties have access to our personal data.
“Cyber risk is a fact of life for any digital service,” O’Sullivan said. “As data becomes more powerful and more accessible, the potential consequences for it to be misused also becomes more dangerous.”
As a Verizon customer, you may not have had any idea that NICE — or any other company — had access to your data. Now that you do know… just imagine how many other companies you deal with are doing the exact same thing.