A GOP data firm has accepted responsibility for leaving the personal data of 198 million Americans (aka: most of the country's voting populace) openly accessible on an Amazon server in the biggest voter data leak in global history. Deep Root Analytics, the owner of the data, has long been contracted by the Republican National Committee to measure voter opinions on a wide variety of issues, from health care to gun control. As part of their contract with the RNC, the group pulls voter information from a wide variety of sources, ranging from Reddit to the Karl Rove super PAC American Crossroads.
This data, which includes religious affiliation and ethnicity, is then utilized to help craft PR efforts and other messaging, as well as to determine turnout and voter preferences. And, according to analysis of the data and previous profiles of the company like this one over at Ad Age, this firm was hugely influential in getting Donald Trump's "populist" message out to voters during the last election cycle.
But last week, UpGuard cyber risk analyst Chris Vickery discovered that Deep Root had been storing a massive amount of this data on Amazon servers, publicly accessible via the internet, with absolutely no apparent security precautions whatsoever:
The data repository, an Amazon Web Services S3 bucket, lacked any protection against access. As such, anyone with an internet connection could have accessed the Republican data operation used to power Donald Trump’s presidential victory, simply by navigating to a six-character Amazon subdomain: “dra-dw”.
Vickery frequently hunts for misconfigured data sources on behalf of UpGuard's Cyber Risk Team, often finding everything from military engineering plans to lists of potential terrorists -- simply sitting out in the open. Vickery had recently exposed a top defense contractor for doing something similar, albeit on a notably smaller scale. In this instance, the openly-accessible data included names, addresses, birthdates, phone numbers, troves of stored online user posts, collected over the better part of the last decade:
"Within “data_trust” are two massive stores of personal information collectively representing up to 198 million potential voters. Consisting primarily of two file repositories, a 256 GB folder for the 2008 presidential election and a 233 GB folder for 2012, each containing fifty-one files - one for every state, as well as the District of Columbia. Each file, formatted as a comma separated value (.csv), lists an internal, 32-character alphanumeric “RNC ID”—such as, for example, 530C2598-6EF4-4A56-9A7X-2FCA466FX2E2—used to uniquely identify every potential voter in the database. These RNC IDS uniquely link disparate data sets together, combining dozens of sensitive and personally identifying data points, making it possible to piece together a striking amount of detail on individual Americans specified by name."
One segment of the files contained modeled data about each individual voter's likely positions on 46 different issues. Other portions of the data detail whether voters are registered, and whether they are currently on the federal "Do Not Call" list (you may recall that the RNC is currently supporting a proposal that would let them spam your voicemail inbox without your phone ringing). Collectively, this data was collected and used by a massive number of Republican outfits, including Americans for Prosperity, market research firm TargetPoint, Causeway Solutions, and more.
The security faux pas is considered one of the most monumental ever documented in any country. The 198 million American voters exposed by this screw up dwarves the previous biggest leak -- a leak of the voting data of 93.4 million Mexican citizens -- as well as the now-third biggest leak of this kind ever -- the exposure of the data of 55 million voters in the Philippines. On the plus side, a statement being provided by Deep Root to the media takes ownership of the screw up, without too much of the couching you often see after such breaches:
"We have engaged Stroz Freidberg to conduct a thorough review, and that process is underway. Based upon this review we have determined that the access that was made without our knowledge happened because of a change that was made in the files’ asset access protocols. We are in the process of determining how that change was made and take full responsibility for the change, but suffice to say we have updated the settings to prevent further access. We believe the change that was made happened post June 1 2017, which was when we last evaluated and updated our security settings. We do not believe that our systems have been hacked. To date, the only entity that we are aware of that had access to the data was Chris Vickery."
Still, it's not exactly a confidence builder to witness the largest leak of voter data in global history as we're busy trying to ascertain just how secure our clearly dysfunctional voting systems are to malicious outside influence -- and debating the slow-but-steady erosion of consumer privacy protections being spearheaded by the GOP.