Report: An unsecured DoD server has been leaking multiple terabytes of internal U.S. military emails for at least two weeks
· Feb 21, 2023 ·

Let's check in on the Department of Defense to see how this uber-serious and important department of the government is doing.

Well, crap.

The U.S. Department of Defense secured an exposed server on Monday that was spilling internal U.S. military emails to the open internet for the past two weeks.

The exposed server was hosted on Microsoft's Azure government cloud for Department of Defense customers, which uses servers that are physically separated from other commercial customers and as such can be used to share sensitive but unclassified government data. The exposed server was part of an internal mailbox system storing about three terabytes of internal military emails, many pertaining to U.S. Special Operations Command, or USSOCOM, the U.S. military unit tasked with conducting special military operations.

But a misconfiguration left the server without a password, allowing anyone on the internet access to the sensitive mailbox data inside using only a web browser, just by knowing its IP address.

Are you serious right now?

For two weeks, sensitive military emails and information were just freely flowing from a Cloud account because nobody set up a password!

This is the most glaring example of government incompetence that I have seen in a long time.

Anurag Sen, a good-faith security researcher known for discovering sensitive data that has been inadvertently published online, found the exposed server over the weekend and provided details to TechCrunch so we could alert the U.S. government.

The server was packed with internal military email messages, dating back years, some of which contained sensitive personnel information. One of the exposed files included a completed SF-86 questionnaire, which are filled out by federal employees seeking a security clearance and contain highly sensitive personal and health information for vetting individuals before they are cleared to handle classified information. These personnel questionnaires contain a significant amount of background information on security clearance holders valuable to foreign adversaries. In 2015, suspected Chinese hackers stole millions of sensitive background check files of government employees who sought security clearance in a data breach at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Personal background check files containing personal and sensitive information was just sitting out there, completely unprotected and it took this random security researcher to spot it.

You think China didn't already discover this leak?

According to a listing on Shodan, a search engine that crawls the web for exposed systems and databases, the mailbox server was first detected as spilling data on February 8. It's not clear how the mailbox data became exposed to the public internet, but it's likely due to a misconfiguration caused by human error.

TechCrunch contacted USSOCOM on Sunday morning during a U.S. holiday weekend but the exposed server wasn't secured until Monday afternoon. When reached by email, a senior Pentagon official confirmed they had passed details of the exposed server to USSOCOM. The server was inaccessible soon after.

USSOCOM spokesperson Ken McGraw said in an email on Tuesday that an investigation, which began Monday, is under way. "We can confirm at this point is no one hacked U.S. Special Operations Command's information systems," said McGraw.

It's not known if anyone other than Sen found the exposed data during the two-week window that the cloud server was accessible from the internet. TechCrunch asked the Department of Defense if it has the technical ability, such as logs, to detect any evidence of improper access or data exfiltration from the database, but the spokesperson did not say.

This is an absolute comedy of errors.

And somehow it's still not the most embarrassing thing from our Department of Defense this week even!

Ready to join the conversation? Subscribe today.

Access comments and our fully-featured social platform.

Sign up Now
App screenshot

You must signup or login to view or post comments on this article.