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Pentagon contractor makes spy archive publicly accessible

By Sheetal Sukhija, Hong Kong News
19 Nov 2017, 18 GMT+10

WASHINGTON, U.S. - In what appeared to be a mistake, a Pentagon contractor left a vast archive of social media spy archive publicly accessible on the Amazon account.

The trove revealed to the public appeared to be a military-sponsored intelligence-gathering operation that targeted people in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Researchers from security firm UpGuard's Cyber Risk Team said in a blog post that the three cloud-based storage buckets contained at least 1.8 billion scraped online posts spanning eight years.

Further, the cache is believed to have included many posts that appeared to be benign, and in many cases those involved from people in the U.S.

The discovery of the trove, yet again, raised privacy and civil-liberties questions.

While Facebook was one of the sites that originally hosted the scraped content, other venues have included soccer discussion groups and video game forums.

The researchers revealed that topics in the scraped content were extremely wide-ranging and included Arabic language posts mocking ISIS and Pashto language comments made on the official Facebook page of Pakistani politician Imran Khan.

Further, the researchers revealed that the scrapings were left in three Amazon Web Servers S3 cloud storage buckets that were configured to allow access to anyone with a freely available AWS account.

However, this wasnt the only sensitive data left unsecured on Amazon.

Recently, UpGuard found private data belonging to Viacom, security firm TigerSwan and defense contractor Booz Allen Hamiltonsimilarly exposed.

Commenting on the latest finding, UpGuard analyst Dan O'Sullivan said, Massive in scale, it is difficult to state exactly how or why these particular posts were collected over the course of almost a decade. Given the enormous size of these data stores, a cursory search reveals a number of foreign-sourced posts that either appear entirely benign, with no apparent ties to areas of concern for U.S. intelligence agencies, or ones that originate from American citizens, including a vast quantity of Facebook and Twitter posts, some stating political opinions.

O'Sullivan added, Among the details collected are the web addresses of targeted posts, as well as other background details on the authors which provide further confirmation of their origins from American citizens.

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