Verizon Communications Data Leak Resulted in Exposure of 6 Million Accounts

Human error was to blame for a massive Verizon Communications data leak that saw the personal information, account details and PIN numbers of more than 6 million customers exposed on the Internet.

The Verizon Communications data leak is particularly serious due to the highly sensitive nature of the exposed data. In addition to customers’ names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers, PIN numbers and account details were also exposed. Since the PIN is used to confirm the identity of customers, anyone in possession of the data could easily impersonate customers. The PINs are used to verify identities by customer service staff at the firm’s wireline call center.

The Verizon Communications data leak was caused by a misconfigured cloud server that was set to allow external access. Amazon automatically secures its servers, although changing the settings will allow data to be accessed externally. The error was made by an employee of NICE Systems, an Israeli third-party vendor contracted by Verizon to improve its wireline self-service call center portal for residential and small business customers.

As was the case with a number of recent data leaks, the misconfigured cloud server was found by Chris Vickery, security researcher and Director of Cyber Risk Research at UpGuard. The Amazon S3 storage server error was identified on June 13 and was brought to the attention of Verizon, which corrected the problem on June 22, 9 days after being notified of the security hole. Data were accessible by anyone who had the web address.

Initially, UpGuard suspected up to 14 million individuals had been affected as a result of the Verizon Communications data leak, although Verizon has since released a statement confirming the incident impacted around 6 million customers.

Vickery discovered the server had six unsecured folders. The information in the files related to customers who called Verizon customer service between January and June 2017.

A spokesperson for Verizon told ZDNet, “Verizon provided the vendor with certain data to perform this work and authorized the vendor to set up AWS storage as part of this project. Unfortunately, the vendor’s employee incorrectly set their AWS storage to allow external access.”

While the data were exposed online, the information does not appear to have been accessed by anyone other than the security researcher who discovered the error. Verizon said, “There has been no loss or theft of Verizon or Verizon customer information.”

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Elizabeth Hernandez

Elizabeth Hernandez is a news writer on Defensorum. Elizabeth is an experienced journalist who has worked on many publications for several years. Elizabeth writers about compliance and the related areas of IT security breaches. Elizabeth's has a focus data privacy and secure handling of personal information. Elizabeth has a postgraduate degree in journalism. Elizabeth Hernandez is the editor of HIPAAZone. https://twitter.com/ElizabethHzone