Rogue employees sell on World Cup fans' passport data

September 2010 Cyber Security

Reports are coming in that the Information Commissioner's Office has started investigating FIFA, the world football governing body, over allegations that details of thousands of World Cup fans' data - including their passport data - were accessed by one or more members of staff and then sold on the black market.

According to Imperva, the data security specialist, it is alleged that the details of more than 35 000 English fans - who visited Germany for the 2006 World Cup - had their passport and allied data sold to ticket touts for marketing purposes.

"Although this was clearly illegal, it also calls into question the internal security practices within football's international governing body whose IT managers really should know better," said Amichai Shulman, Imperva's chief technology officer. "It confirms something we have been saying for some time, namely that most organisations defend their digital assets against external attack, but they ignore the internal threat at their peril."

According to Shulman, this serious breach of trust could have been avoided if FIFA had monitored - and secured - the access to football fans personal data by their staff, as well as the association's files and databases. By allowing only carefully controlled access to data, the rogue member of staff would have realised s/he could not get away with accessing the information in the first place. The employees did not hack into the database; it was an internal attack where they abused normal functionality and privileges granted to them. This was probably a case of over privileged users as these low level employees probably should not have been granted access to that data in the first place.”

However, one thing to question is how this four year old data was still on the databases?

Shulman comments “The data that was sold was fan data from 2006 which was used for the 2010 games. There are two scenarios that could have occurred:

1. The data was stolen in 2006, stored locally and then when the time came the insider put it on the market. The employee knew already in 2006 that he was sitting on a goldmine given the football fans are lifetime fans and in four years time this data will be of extreme value.

2. The other option, which I actually believe is probably the case – the data was retained in the databases from 2006 and accessed by employees in 2010.

The question then is why is the data – including passport details – stored in the databases for so long? If the data was being stored for the specific company for statistics/ analysis/anticipation of participation etc, then why did they feel it necessary to store the real personal details such as passport details? It very much seems that controls on the database were completely inadequate.”

“A lot of organisations forget about what data is stored in their systems, especially from four years ago. The ticketing agency may not even have been aware that they had a database containing this data. However, according to international law governing the exchange of information, the data should have been deleted. This is a problem many enterprises face – they do not know where to begin, where all the sensitive data that is stored, what should be kept and what needs to be deleted.” adds Shulman.

“Furthermore, I would assume that there is a large turnover of ticketing agency employees in four years – can every single employee since then up until now have gained access to this data? What about passwords? Were they even changed during this time period? And a very important question – who has access to the data. Did every employee have access rights to the sensitive data?”

Shulman commented, “A database access monitoring system that looks at the rate at which data is taken out of the database would have detected this problem but it is not enough to have a simple monitoring solution because the access to the database is usually through an application so you need to be able to maintain end to end visibility through all the different tiers. The system should alert on any abnormal amount of data retrieved from the database and also apply geo-location analysis and alert on an illogical access to database by a user who should not be accessing the data so many times or retrieving a large number of details in a single session.”

The reason you need end-to-end visibility is because users connect to a database via an application, the application accesses the database through a pool of connections using a single account. If you only monitor the traffic between application and database server you see a single account making all the access requests so you cannot distinguish between individual application users and cannot say whether this number of records accessed is acceptable, so you need to maintain end to end accountability.

For more on the FIFA data security blunder:

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