Researchers posed as foreign actors, and data brokers sold them information on military servicemembers anyway

Third parties selling our personal data is annoying. But for certain sensitive populations like military service members, the selling of that information could quickly become a national security threat. Researchers at Duke University released a study on Monday tracking what measures data brokers have in place to prevent unidentified or potentially malign actors from buying personal data on members of the military. As it turns out, the answer is often few to none — even when the purchaser is actively posing as a foreign agent.

A 2021 Duke study by the same lead researcher revealed that data brokers advertised that they had access to — and were more than happy to sell —information on US military personnel. In this more recent study researchers used wiped computers, VPNs, burner phones bought with cash and other means of identity obfuscation to go undercover. They scraped the websites of data brokers to see which were likely to have available data on servicemembers. Then they attempted to make those purchases, posing as two entities: and With little-or-no vetting, several of the brokers transferred the requested data not only to the presumptively Chicago-based datamarketresearch, but also to the server of the .asia domain which was located in Singapore. The records only cost between 12 to 32 cents a piece.

The sensitive information included health records and financial information. Location data was also available, although the team at Duke decided not to purchase that — though it’s not clear if this was for financial or ethical reasons. “Access to this data could be used by foreign and malicious actors to target active-duty military personnel, veterans, and their families and acquaintances for profiling, blackmail, targeting with information campaigns, and more,” the report cautions. At an individual level, this could also include identity theft or fraud.

This gaping hole in our national security apparatus is due in large part to the absence of comprehensive federal regulations governing either individual data privacy, or much of the business practices engaged in by data brokers. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bill Cassidy and Marco Rubio introduced the Protecting Military Service Members’ Data Act in 2022 to give power to the Federal Trade Commission to prevent data brokers from selling military personnel information to adversarial nations. They reintroduced the bill in March 2023 after it stalled out. Despite bipartisan support, it still hasn’t made it past the introduction phase.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at 

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