100GB of secret NSA data found on unsecured AWS S3 bucket

Bucket leaking water
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The NSA has been hit by yet another data leak, as over 100GB of sensitive, classified data was exposed through shoddy security practises.

The leak came from a virtual copy of a hard drive belonging to US Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), an intelligence organisation operating within both the US Army and the NSA.

The virtual disk image was discovered by UpGuard cyber risk research director Chris Vickery on an unprotected public Amazon S3 server, meaning that anyone who knew the web address where the data was stored could freely access it.

Unsecured S3 buckets are a frequent cause of embarrassing data breaches for many companies and government organisations. The personal details of two million Dow Jones customers were exposed in a similar fashion earlier this year, as were customers of Accenture and the WWE.

"Regrettably, this cloud leak was entirely avoidable," UpGuard said in a blog post announcing the discovery, "the likely result of process errors within an IT environment that lacked the procedures needed to ensure something as impactful as a data repository containing classified information not be left publicly accessible."

"Plainly put, the digital tools needed to potentially access the networks relied upon by multiple Pentagon intelligence agencies to disseminate information should not be something available to anybody entering a URL into a web browser," the post said. "Although the UpGuard Cyber Risk Team has found and helped to secure multiple data exposures involving sensitive defense intelligence data, this is the first time that clearly classified information has been among the exposed data."

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

The drive also included hashed passwords for internal systems, as well as private keys belonging to third-party INSCOM defence contractors for accessing "distributed intelligence systems". Multiple areas of the drive were marked 'Top Secret', with some sections even bearing the 'NOFORN' designation, indicating that they were to be kept secret even from the US government's foreign intelligence allies.

IT Pro has reached out to the NSA to ask why the appropriate protections were not taken, and will update this piece when we hear back.

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.