A Massive Vaccine Database Leak Exposes IDs of Millions of Indians

A Massive Vaccine Database Leak Exposes IDs of Millions of Indians
Written by Techbot

“The data involved with government entities is organically very large,” says Tejasi Panjiar, an associate counsel at the Internet Freedom Foundation, an organization that advocates for digital rights. “Which is why there needs to be very strict data-security standards for government-based entities.”

Panjiar further said that the concern is that India doesn’t have a cybersecurity policy and that even the current data-protection framework “takes away that aspect of compensation that affected users would get,” making such leaks an even bigger cause for concern. “I think it’s a time for worry for everyone who’s been vaccinated through CoWIN,” added Panjiar.

The health ministry has said that claims that the CoWIN portal has been breached are “without any basis” and that the Computer Emergency Response Team, the agency responsible for responding to cybersecurity incidents, has been asked to investigate.

India’s IT minister, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, tweeted that the data accessed by the bot is from a “threat actor database” and that “it does not appear that CoWIN app or database has been directly breached.”

An independent report by digital risk monitoring platform CloudSEK seems to validate this to some extent. The company’s research suggests that rather than having access to the entire CoWIN database or backend, the hackers may have instead gotten hold of multiple credentials from health workers, allowing them more limited access to records.

“What CloudSEK knows with high confidence is that threat actors have access to multiple credentials that belong to health workers that could be used to access the CoWIN portal for those individual health workers and the data they have access to,” says Rahul Sasi, chief executive of CloudSEK. “What we also speculate is some sort of unauthenticated API that would have allowed attackers to query specific user details. But there is no proof at this point of time.”

CoWIN was launched in January 2021 as the foundation of India’s vaccination drive. The platform, which was also available as a mobile app, was used by people to book their vaccination slots and generate a vaccination certificate for themselves and their family members. The government at the time was criticized for making CoWIN the only way for Indians to book a vaccination appointment, excluding millions who didn’t have access to a smartphone or the internet.

This isn’t the first time the news of a CoWIN database has surfaced. In 2021, Dark Leak Market, a hacker group, said it had access to the data of 150 million Indians registered on CoWIN. The health ministry denied the claims, saying the platform stores “all the data in a safe and secure digital environment.” At the time, cybersecurity researchers said they suspected the “leak” was a scam.

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