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Security & privacy

Cyberattack seized images of travelers, Customs says

When we go on vacation or travel to work, our expectation is that we’ll be having a safe, predictable journey. That’s the reason why flights are so tightly scheduled and border security so rigorous. If anything were to go wrong, the personal, financial, and national security implications would be massive, to say the least. Plus, how would we know where to place the blame?

Cyberattacks are nothing new, but these digital scourges are starting to pop up in more dangerous places than ever. An attack on a federal contractor working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection has potentially exposed private information about thousands of travelers crossing the border. What’s worse, the data was stolen from a system that’s already proven controversial with American citizens.

If you’ve traveled recently, or know anyone who has, you won’t want to miss this news. We have all the details on the attack, as well as who was affected and what can be done.

How did hackers attack U.S. Customs and Border Protection?

The Department of Homeland Security is alerting travelers about a cyberattack that took place against a federal subcontractor that works closely with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. This company primarily is used to deploy security cameras at border checkpoints and ports of entry — facial recognition cameras, to be precise.

These cameras are used to capture the faces of drivers and their cars’ license plates as they pass through the border. Although this program has been controversial with U.S. citizens, the government has insisted on its use to curb illegal immigration, terrorism and a host of other border-related concerns.


Related: Border guards force U.S. citizen to unlock phone


It makes sense too since a potentially dangerous figure can be easily spotted and identified as they’re crossing into the country. The system can also help catch suspicious back-and-forth drivers between the U.S. and its neighbors by comparing data it captures with law enforcement records.

Unfortunately, storing facial recognition data, photos and license plate images in one place made the government-backed system a hot target for hackers. According to the release, the information stolen by hackers includes thousands of photographs of drivers, as well as their vehicles and license plates.

Using this data, criminals can easily falsify identities, or gather information based on motor vehicle records — many of which are available online for little to no charge.

All these factors make this recent breach particularly dangerous, especially as international tensions continue to rise in parts of the world.

Who was affected by this recent breach?

Surprisingly, only around 100,000 individuals were potentially affected by this breach, which occurred at a single point of entry near the Canadian border. Additionally, the government is clarifying that a foreign power was not responsible for this hack, which appears to be the work of individuals.

This unfortunate incident takes place as controversy erupts over the government’s use of surveillance on American citizens. In light of the recent breach among other privacy matters, congress plans to meet to discuss the ramifications of such pervasive data-gathering. Some even wish to investigate the Department of Homeland Security’s use of surveillance in this and other areas as well.


Related: Dark web traffickers arrested in government sting


As of now, there isn’t a solid way to confirm if you were affected by the breach. What you can do, however, is deduce if you weren’t. If you haven’t crossed into Canada at any point in the past year, odds are, you’re safe from this leak.

Otherwise, it may be wise to wait and see if the government will push further alerts to those who were affected by the issue. There isn’t much that can be done to prevent a data breach like this one (that job falls on the government), but for the time being, it might be a bit wiser to travel by air versus land if you can help it. As far as we know, they haven’t broken into passport records or flight itineraries just yet.

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