Security Experts:

FBI Reportedly Exposed Secret Terrorist Watchlist

Security researcher Bob Diachenko claims to have discovered an unprotected Elasticsearch database containing 1.9 million records related to what appeared to be a terrorist watchlist of the United States government.

Diachenko identified what he believed to be a no-fly list maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, a multi-agency group administered by the FBI. The no-fly list represents only a subset of a larger terrorist watchlist maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The watchlist contains information on people who are suspected of terrorism, although they might have not been charged with a crime. The list is supposed to be accessible to specific authorized individuals only.

The Elasticsearch cluster containing the exposed watchlist was accessible from the Internet without authentication. The database was stored on a Bahrain IP address.

Records in the exposed list contained information such as names, birth dates, citizenship, gender, no-fly indicators, passport numbers, TSC watchlist ID, and other details.

The watchlist was discovered by Diachenko on July 19, who reported it to the DHS on the same day. Although the Department acknowledged the incident, the watchlist continued to be accessible from the Internet for three more weeks, until August 9.

The exposed server, Diachenko reveals, was indexed by search engines Censys and ZoomEye on July 19.

“Two of the Open Web Applications Security Project (OWASP) recommendations focus on preventing unauthorized access to the data and applications. Considering this search was discovered by utilizing commercial Open Source Intelligence and discovery tools, it is likely this may have been visible and downloaded by cyber criminals,” James McQuiggan, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, said in an emailed comment.

As Diachenko points out, should the list fall into the wrong hands, it “could be used to oppress, harass, or persecute people on the list and their families.” This is especially true for innocent people on the list.

“Whenever organizations upload data to be accessible via the cloud, all data must be secured and restricted to authorized users to reduce the risk of a sensitive data leak. With proper and robust security education and training, developers can understand and implement effective access and identity management controls, which support the organization's policies to protect all uploaded data,” McQuiggan also said.

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