Newly Reported Data Leak Could Affect 150 Million U.S. Adults

(The Mercury News/TNS) -

A new data leak could affect hundreds of millions of Americans, perhaps more than the nearly 150 million affected by the Equifax breach.

Exactis, a Florida-based marketing and data-aggregation firm, leaked detailed information on individual adults and businesses, a security researcher said. While the exact number of people affected isn’t known, the leak involved about 340 million records on a publicly available server.

Wired was the first to report that the exposed information included phone numbers, home addresses, email addresses and personal characteristics for every name, such as interests and habits, plus the number, age and gender of the person’s children. Other types of information found included religion, whether a person smokes, and type of pet.

No evidence has surfaced that anyone with malicious intent obtained the Exactis data. That makes it different from the Equifax hack, which was a cyberattack on the company’s data.

On the website of Exactis, the company claims to have data on 218 million individuals, including 110 million U.S. households, and 3.5 billion “consumer, business, and digital records.”

Vinny Troia, the security researcher who discovered the leak and reported it to Exactis — which he said has since protected the data — said Thursday that he looked for about 40 or 50 names and everybody he searched for came up. “I searched celebrities, I searched people I know,” he said.

“It seems like this is a database with pretty much every U.S. citizen in it,” Troia, founder of New York-based security company Night Lion Security, told Wired, which also asked Troia to look up names in the database and confirmed the authenticity of some of the information, although some of it was outdated. “I don’t know where the data is coming from, but it’s one of the most comprehensive collections I’ve ever seen.”

Troia told Wired that he was curious about the security of ElasticSearch, which the magazine described as “a popular type of database that’s designed to be easily queried over the internet using just the command line.” When he did a search on the database, he found the Exactis database, which was unprotected. He said he also told the FBI about his findings.

If the Exactis numbers are accurate, the leak would make it one of the biggest data security breaches in a while, topping last year’s Equifax breach and the number of Facebook users affected by the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, which according to Facebook was up to 87 million.

The information leaked by Exactis did not include Social Security numbers like the Equifax breach did. But it did include some general financial information, Troia said.

“When I looked myself up, I found the name of my mortgage lender, the value class of my home and whether or not I had certain kind of credit card,” Troia said.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center, told Wired that the information leaked from Exactis could be used to impersonate others.

Exactis did not return a request for comment. The company’s clients include companies in the media, financial services and e-commerce industries, which it helps with targeted marketing campaigns, according to Crunchbase.