Research

Pentagon, NSA data leaked through AWS bucket

Pentagon, NSA data leaked through AWS bucket

Unsecured S3 buckets are a frequent cause of embarrassing data breaches for many companies and government organisations.

The trove of data was stored on an Amazon cloud server, and apparently configured for public access, according to Chris Vickery, a security researcher with UpGuard.

A trove of USA military data, described by security researchers as being "highly sensitive", was reportedly unearthed on a publicly accessible Amazon server two months ago. When opened, the file revealed data labeled with the classification "NOFORN", meaning the information can not be shared with foreign government allies. UpGuard researchers said that private keys used to access intelligence systems and hashed passwords were also left publicly exposed. The server contained 47 viewable files, three of which were downloadable and exposed national security data.

The drive in question contained a trove of data related to a U.S. military project codenamed "Red Disk", a failed cloud collaboration and content sharing platform created to let field troops access real-time intelligence data from the Pentagon, including satellite and drone imagery.

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"Among the most compelling downloadable assets revealed from within the exposed bucket is a virtual hard drive used for communications within secure federal IT environments, which, when opened, reveals classified data labeled NOFORN - a restriction indicating a high level of sensitivity, prohibited from being disseminated even to foreign allies", Upguard's Dan O'Sullivan wrote in the report. It was supposed to be modular and scalable and replace Army's legacy platform known as the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) that was used to process all the gathered surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance data and then share it. The system that the Army uses is stated to be the largest and that it struggles to scale with the demand.

The files show that the program, called Red Disk, was meant to handle and transfer documents, videos, and audio between intelligence employees. NiFi helped Red Disk to route different kind of data to different computer systems over "geographically dispersed sites" as mentioned in the report. Last but not the least, Vickery reiterated that this exposure of data was "entirely avoidable" in the long list of government leaks reported past year. Poor security on AWS servers led to exposed data tied to the Pentagon, Verizon, Dow Jones and almost 200 million American voter records.

ZDNet reported that Vickery alerted the government about the breach in October and that the S3 server was eventually secured. Its owner remains anonymous, but the information therein belongs to the U.S. army's Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), a division of the NSA and the United States army.

IBTimes UK has reached out to Vickery for further clarity on the matter and is awaiting a response.


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