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Personal data on veterans, troops can be bought for as little as 12 cents, study finds

About one million people work in cybersecurity in the U.S., but there are nearly 600,000 unfilled positions. (Dreamstime/TNS)
November 07, 2023

Sensitive information regarding active-duty U.S. military members and veterans can be purchased for as little as 12 cents per record through data broker websites, according to a new Duke University study published Monday.

The study, commissioned by the U.S. Military Academy, shows that sensitive information, including financial, medical, and religious information, can be purchased cheaply online.

The Duke University study report explained, “This study involved scraping hundreds of data broker websites to look for terms like ‘military’ and ‘veteran,’ contacting U.S. data brokers from a U.S. domain to inquire about and purchase data on the U.S. military, and contacting U.S. data brokers from a .asia domain to inquire about and purchase the same.”

Researchers noted that the “data brokerage ecosystem” has become a multi-billion-dollar industry that collects, sells, licenses, and shares personal information pertaining to Americans and provides services based on the information.

Duke University’s study was intended to examine the type of information that data brokers collected and sold with regard to U.S. service members. The study also examined the potential risks that could come from foreign governments or individuals acquiring personal information on U.S. military members and veterans.

READ MORE: China’s military targeting U.S. troops, veterans, top Air Force general warns: Report

“It is not difficult to obtain sensitive data about active-duty members of the military, their families, and veterans, including non-public, individually identified, and sensitive data, such as health data, financial data, and information about religious practices,” researchers stated. “The team bought this and other data from U.S. data brokers via a .org and a .asia domain for as low as $0.12 per record. Location data is also available, though the team did not purchase it.”

According to Stars and Stripes, the Duke University report indicates that America’s enemies could use the sensitive information obtained through data brokers to target Americans who have connections with the military for blackmail, disinformation campaigns, profiling, and other potentially harmful activities.

Researchers explained that the U.S. government currently does not have enough regulations in place to guard against the inconsistent activities of data brokers.

“Meaningful policy action is needed to address this ecosystem and mitigate national security risks facing the United States,” the report urged.

The U.S. Military Academy commissioned study recommended that Congress pass a thorough privacy law that would place significant controls on the data brokerage industry, which could limit the dangers highlighted throughout the report.

“Foreign governments have historically sought data about American persons and organizations for espionage, election interference, and other purposes,” the report stated. “Their interest in the U.S. military in particular is high.”

U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) both released statements Monday in response to Duke University’s report.

“This report further solidifies the need to address this gaping hole in the protection of U.S. service members,” Cassidy said. “Our legislation defends the men and women in uniform from having their personal information sold to our enemies like China and Russia. We must act in the interest of national security and protect those who defend our nation.”

Warren explained that data brokers are currently selling “sensitive information” about U.S. military members and their families for “nickels” without understanding the national security risks caused by the sale of personal information.

“This report makes clear that we need real guardrails to protect the personal data of service members, veterans, and their families,” she stated.