Another day, another slipup by the Internal Revenue Service.
The incident involves the unwitting exposure of as many as 2,319 Social Security numbers, maybe more, according to a July 1 audit by the independent transparency and public-domain group Public.Resource.org. The identifying numbers were on the Internet for less than 24 hours, but the damage was done. And unfortunately, the data-breach concerns some of the most sensitive types of transactions: Those made by nonprofit political groups known as 527s.
Every so often, 527s have to file tax forms to the IRS, which then get added to a database. The database itself is hardly a secret; the IRS has been sending updated records routinely to Public.Resource.org, and it’s a favorite among political reporters. But when the IRS told the group’s founder, Carl Malamud, to disregard the Form 990-Ts included in the agency’s January release, he took a closer look at the files in question.
Of the more than 3,000 tax returns contained in the January update, 319 contained sensitive data the agency should have scrubbed, Malamud wrote in the report he filed to the inspector general’s office.
To determine the extent of the exposure, we’ve analyzed our logs and have also analyzed the data received from the IRS. We maintain a privacy registry based on any clicks made on the privacy cover sheet on the top of each return. That registry indicates that 8 clicks were made from 4 unique IP addresses. However, none of those resulted in privacy complaints and could have been made by an automated process.
In addition, we examined our FTP and HTTP logs. We only maintain a 7-day window for HTTP logs and did not see any HTTP-based access that was not from a search engine crawler. For the FTP logs (which indicates bulk download activity), we did not see extensive activity for the January directory, but it was clear that at least one copy of the DVD ISO image (the image of the original DVD) had been transferred.
Although Public.Resource.org took down the offending files immediately and replaced them with a clean version, it was another day before “senior White House officials” removed the files from public view, on July 3.
Calling the IRS’s efforts at data security “unprofessional and amateur,” Public.Resource.org is requesting that the IRS shut down the entire 527 database to prevent further lapses.
Source: NATIONAL JOURNAL