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Friday, 01 March 2019 08:15

Dow Jones Watchlist database found exposed online

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Dow Jones Watchlist database found exposed online Image by geralt on Pixabay

A security researcher has found a copy of the Dow Jones Watchlist database on a public Elasticsearch cluster which was open to anyone who knew where to look and could have been found using a public IoT search engine like BinaryEdge.

Bob Diachenko said the Watchlist was used by eight of the world's 10 largest financial organisations and had been statistically shown to be the most accurate, complete, and up-to-date list of senior PEPs (politically exposed persons), their relatives and close associates.

The database was 4.4GB in size and contained 2,418,862 records including:

  • global coverage of senior politically exposed people, their relatives, close associates, and the companies they are linked to;
  • national and international government sanction lists and categories;
  • people officially linked to, or convicted of, high-profile crime; and
  • profile notes from Dow Jones including citing US federal agencies and law enforcement sources.

Said Diachenko: "In other words, it contained the identities of government officials, politicians and people of political influence in every country.

"The data is designed to help identify risks when researching an individual and [carrying out] efficient due diligence. Obviously banks use Watchlist data to identify money laundering and illicit payments through key information about a public figure’s identity."

Diachenko, who formerly worked with security outfit Kromtech, said he had contacted Dow Jones after his find on 22 February.

The database had now been taken down, with the following statement sent to him: "This data is entirely derived from publicly available sources. At this time our review suggests this resulted from an authorised third party’s misconfiguration of an AWS server, and the data is no longer available."

Diachenko commented: "What makes this data so much more valuable is the focus on premium and reputable sources. In the age of fake news and social engineering online it is easy to see how valuable this type of information would be to companies, governments, or individuals."

Commenting on the leak, Chris DeRamus, chief technology officer and co-founder of DivvyCloud, a company that offers security, compliance, and governance guardrails for public and private cloud infrastructure, said: “This security lapse from the Dow adds to a growing list of organisations in 2019 that have left Elasticsearch servers unprotected, therefore exposing massive quantities of proprietary data.

"Dow Jones suffered a similar cloud storage misconfiguration two years ago that exposed the information of 2.2 million customers. It’s concerning that with this new exposure, Dow Jones clearly did not take proper steps to strengthen its security posture.

"Organisations must realise the importance of balancing their use of the public cloud, containers, hybrid infrastructure and more with proper security controls. Automated cloud security solutions that provide the automation essential to enforce policy, reduce risk, provide governance, impose compliance and increase security across large-scale hybrid cloud infrastructure are a must for the massive stock market index, as well as any major enterprise.”

Carl Wright, chief compliance officer of security firm AttackIQ, said: “This data breach is particularly egregious for both the lack of very basic protection - a password - and the extremely high degree of sensitivity of the data.

"There may be people on the list who are innocent, and the risky individuals are now aware they are on the list and can change their tactics to avoid detection in the future.

"Such leaks are often caused by gaps in security programs that can be easily detected and prevented. Organisations must take proactive approaches to protect their data through continuous evaluation of their existing security controls to uncover gaps before a hacker finds and exploits any weaknesses.

"And as evidenced by this incident, testing must extend to an organisation’s third-party partners as well.”

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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