1.9 million+ records from the FBI’s terrorist watchlist available online

Pierluigi Paganini August 17, 2021

A security researcher discovered that a secret FBI’s terrorist watchlist was accidentally exposed on the internet for three weeks between July 19 and August 9, 2021.

The security researcher Bob Diachenko discovered a secret terrorist watchlist with 1.9 million records that were exposed on the internet for three weeks between July 19 and August 9, 2021.

In July, Diachenko discovered an unsecured Elasticsearch cluster containing 1.9 records of sensitive information on individuals, such as names, country citizenship, gender, date of birth, passport details, and no-fly status.

The list is extracted by the e FBI Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), a database used since 2003 by US feds and other agencies to track individuals who are “known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities.”

 The copy of the TSC database was discovered by the expert on a Bahrainian IP address.

“The exposed Elasticsearch cluster contained 1.9 million records,” Diachenko wrote on LinkedIn. “I do not know how much of the full TSC Watchlist it stored, but it seems plausible that the entire list was exposed.

Each record in the watchlist contained some or all of the following info:

  • Full name
  • TSC watchlist ID
  • Citizenship
  • Gender
  • Date of birth
  • Passport number
  • Country of issuance
  • No-fly indicator”

At the time of this writing is not clear if the unsecured server was operated directly by the a U.S. government agency, a third-party, or in the worst case by a threat actor that obtained it.

Diachenko immediately reported his discovery to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the instance of the database was taken down about three weeks later. It is a long period a circumstance that suggest that the server was not directly operated by the FBI.

“On July 19, 2021, The exposed server was indexed by search engines Censys and ZoomEye. I discovered the exposed data on the same day and reported it to the DHS.” continues the expert.

“The exposed server was taken down about three weeks later, on August 9, 2021. It’s not clear why it took so long, and I don’t know for sure whether any unauthorized parties accessed it.”

The exposed DA was also indexed by search engines Censys and ZoomEye, this means that other people could have had access to the secret list.

“It’s not clear why it took so long, and I don’t know for sure whether any unauthorized parties accessed it,” adds Diachenko.

This data leak could have a serious impact on the homeland security, the watchlist includes individual who represents a potential threat for the US even if they have yet to be charged of terrorism and other crimes.

“In the wrong hands, this list could be used to oppress, harass, or persecute people on the list and their families.” says the researcher. “It could cause any number of personal and professional problems for innocent people whose names are included in the list,”

Cases, where people landed on the no-fly list for refusing to become an informant, aren’t unheard of.

Diachenko believes this leak could therefore have negative repercussions for such people and suspects.

“The TSC watchlist is highly controversial. The ACLU, for example, has for many years fought against the use of a secret government no-fly list without due process,” concludes the researcher.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, FBI)

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