[BreachExchange] Niche dating apps expose almost 1TB of user data

Destry Winant destry at riskbasedsecurity.com
Wed Jun 17 10:08:25 EDT 2020


More than 20 million files owned by several dating apps were recently
exposed, leaking sensitive information ranging from explicit media to
the entire infrastructures of the apps.

Approximately 845GB of user and app data was leaked through a single
misconfigured AWS account hosting data from a wide selection of niche
dating apps, including Cougary, Xpal and CasualX, among others.

The “incredibly sensitive” files included media such as images and
audio recordings, as well as private message exchanges, and evidence
of financial transactions. The breach also exposed the various apps’
entire AWS infrastructure through unsecured admin credentials and

This leak affected at least 100,000 users, although it could
potentially affect millions, according to researchers with vpnMentor,
who stumbled on the database as part of a huge web-mapping project.

The S3 buckets contained limited personally identifiable information
(PII), although many of the files directly or indirectly exposed
individuals as they included photos with visible faces, user names and
financial data.

“Our team was able to access this bucket because it was completely
unsecured and unencrypted,” vpnMentor said in a post.

“As ethical hackers, we’re obliged to inform a company when we
discover flaws in their online security. We reached out to the
developers, not only to let them know about the vulnerability but also
to suggest ways in which they could make their system secure.”

The research team added it’s important to note that publicly
accessible S3 buckets are not a flaw of AWS, and usually arise as a
result of an error by the owner of the bucket.

In cases such as that of these dating apps, the easiest remedy would
be to make the bucket private and add authentication protocols, follow
AWS access and authentication best practices, and add further layers
of protection to S3 buckets to restrict who can access it from every
point of entry.

The research team reached out to the owner of one of the apps, 3somes,
on 24 May to present its findings. The developer responded asking for
additional details, after which point vpnMentor offered the URL of the
misconfigured bucket and mentioned the other buckets owned by apparent
sister companies were open too.

Although there was no further communication, on 27 May the S3 buckets
belonging to every other app were re-secured, confirming vpnMentor’s
assumption that all the services shared a common developer.

“Using the images from various apps, hackers could create effective
fake profiles for catfishing schemes, to defraud and abuse unwary
users,” the vpnMentor post continued.

“Given the nature of many of these apps – in some cases involving
financial transactions, fetishes, and STIs – having your presence on
the app made public could create immense stress in your personal

The research team has previously discovered a string of leaked
databases in the past few months and years. For example, vpnMentor
found that millions of text messages leaked through an exposed
TrueDialog server in December 2019.

More recently, a huge leak exposed a wealth of personal and financial
data held by British consultancy firms in January, as well as
thousands of professionals, ranging from expenses forms to personal
names and addresses.

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