This Might Be the Biggest Data Breach in History

Hackers claim they have records of 1B Chinese people, taken from a Shanghai police database
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 5, 2022 8:45 AM CDT
Updated Jul 9, 2022 12:15 PM CDT
This Might Be the Biggest Data Breach in History
Chinese policemen are seen June 1 in Shanghai.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Hackers claim to have obtained a trove of data on 1 billion Chinese people from a Shanghai police database in a leak that, if confirmed, could be one of the largest data breaches in history. In a post on the online hacking forum Breach Forums last week, someone using the handle "ChinaDan" offered to sell nearly 24 terabytes of data, including what they claimed was information on 1 billion people and "several billion case records," for 10 bitcoin, worth about $200,000. The data purportedly contains information from the Shanghai National Police database, including names, addresses, national identification numbers, and cellphone numbers, as well as case details, per the AP.

A sample of data seen by the AP listed names, birthdates, ages, and cellphone numbers. One person was listed as having been born in "2020," with their age listed as "1," suggesting that information on minors was included in the data obtained in the breach. The AP couldn't immediately verify the authenticity of the data samples, and Shanghai police didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The data leak initially sparked discussion on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo, but censors have since moved to block keyword searches for "Shanghai data leak." One person commented on Weibo that the leak means everyone is "running naked"—slang used to refer to a lack of privacy—and that it's "horrifying."

Experts said this breach, if confirmed, would be the biggest in history. Such data leaks are fairly common, according to Michael Gazeley of Hong Kong-based security firm Network Box. "There are approximately 12 billion compromised accounts posted on the dark web right now. That's more than the total number of people in the world," he said, adding that a majority of data leaks often come from the US. Kendra Schaefer of policy research firm Trivium China said in a tweet that it's "hard to parse truth from the rumor mill, but can confirm file exists." Meanwhile, Chester Wisniewski of cybersecurity firm Sophos said that the breach is "potentially incredibly embarrassing to the Chinese government," and that the political harm would probably outweigh damage to the people whose data was leaked.

(More data breach stories.)

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