In a disturbing revelation, researchers at Duke University have exposed the ease with which sensitive data about U.S. military personnel can be purchased from data brokers. These brokers specialize in selling health, finance, and other personal details that could potentially be utilized for blackmailing purposes.
The study, released this week, indicated that the strikingly low cost of such data ranged from $0.12 to $0.32 per individual when purchasing bulk records. Astoundingly, the price could plummet to a mere cent per service member if more significant volumes of information were desired.
The researchers expressed concern about the inadequacy of controls in place when purchasing this data. The process lacked rigorous checks like identity verification or background scans that could ensure the legitimacy of the purchaser’s intent.
The purchased datasets bore no anonymity and frankly exposed details about U.S. military personnel’s net worth, health, and religion. The broker’s indifference towards the buyer’s identity or intent was alarming.
In a surprising twist, one broker was willing to bypass identity verification if payment was made via wire transfer instead of a credit card. The researchers were able to access the requested data without any further scrutiny.
The study also found that location data of military service members, veterans, and their families were commercially available. The researchers, however, refrained from purchasing this information. The U.S. Military Academy funded the study, highlighting the seriousness of the potential national security threat.
The researchers warned about the risk of foreign governments and intelligence services exploiting this data to expose military personnel’s personal lives and physical locations. This data breach could result in coercion, reputational damage, and blackmail.
The study called for Congress to pass a comprehensive federal privacy law supplemented by national security-specific data controls. Despite efforts, such laws have faced significant roadblocks in Congress in recent years, with bills like the American Data Privacy and Protection Act failing to make headway.
Sen. Bill Cassidy voiced his concern over the findings, backing legislation he co-authored in May to prevent data brokers from selling military personnel data to adversarial nations.
The federal government is cognizant of the ease of acquiring sensitive information on the open market. A report published in June by a panel formed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence suggested the need for a rethink in how such commercially available information is gathered.