Personal Data of 191 Million Voters Compromised by Misconfigured Database

December 30, 2015 @ 11:35 AM
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2 min read

Chris Vickery, the white-hat hacker who recently gained attention for exposing public-facing and hence easily accessible databases has now found something even worse: A database with the personal data of 191 million voters that is misconfigured to allow public access. What should the public know?

What Personal Data Is Exposed?

The political database contains over 300 gigabytes of information in total. The exposed personal data in the database includes full names, addresses, voter IDs, genders, phone numbers, dates of birth, political affiliation and voter history for millions of registered voters.

SecurityWeek reported that Vickery and others have searched the database for their own records to check the validity. They found the details stored in it were accurate.

Whose Database Is It?

But there is a larger problem here: Nobody will admit to actually owning the database. SecurityWeek noted that Vickery has been assisted by fellow researchers at as well as Steve Ragan of CSO Online in trying to identify the owner responsible for the database.

The researchers have contacted a congressman’s political action committee and several political data firms, including Political Data, L2 Political, Aristotle, NGP VAN and Catalist, to try to identify the owner. So far, the team isn’t any closer to an answer, and the database is still online.

Could NationBuilder Be the Culprit?

SecurityWeek reported that NationBuilder, a tool often used for political campaigns, is currently the main suspect. Ragan noted that NationBuilder had said the IP address hosting the database wasn’t one of its own, and it wasn’t an IP address for any of their hosted clients.

“While the database is not ours, it is possible that some of the information it contains may have come from data we make available for free to campaigns. From what we’ve seen, the voter information included is already publicly available from each state government, so no new or private information was released in this database,” NationBuilder founder and CEO Jim Gilliam said in a statement to SecurityWeek.

However, Ragan believes that based on the voter count and the format of the records, the database is from one of NationBuilder’s 2014 updates. It seems that the voterID field is a clear marker to the source — but there’s still no confirmation.

Until more information is discovered, registered voters should be wary of any suspicious communications received, especially if they’re political in nature.

Larry Loeb
Principal, PBC Enterprises

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 mag...
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