Days after Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey defended Aadhaar’s security, a security researcher claims that the database is leaking information on every Aadhaar holder.
The New Delhi-based researcher reportedly told ZDNet that a data leak on a system run by a state-owned utility company can allow anyone to download private information on all Aadhaar holders.
This exposes their names, the 12-digit Aadhaar number and information of the services they have linked their Aadhar card to. These services include bank details, policy details and other private information. This potentially affects every Aadhaar card holder.
ZDNet claims that it tried to contact Indian authorities for over a month but didn’t receive any response from the government. It also claims to have contacted the Indian consulate with elaborate details on the vulnerability, but in vain. No action has been taken to fix the data leak and the vulnerability still exists, the website said in its report.
The application programming interface (API) through which the ultility provider – not revealed by ZDNet – verifies a customer’s identity is not secured and has no access controls in place. This makes it possible to retrieve private details of any Aadhaar holder.
“The affected endpoint uses a hardcoded access token, which, when decoded, translates to "INDAADHAARSECURESTATUS," allowing anyone to query Aadhaar numbers against the database without any additional authentication,” the report states.
The researcher says that the API allows any hacker to try several combinations of Aadhar numbers and every time he hits a successful result, that person’s details can be found.
The researcher reportedly could send thousands of requests each minute -- just from one computer.
"From the requests that were sent to check for a rate limiting issue and determine the possibility of stumbling across valid Aadhaar numbers, I have found that this information is not retrieved from a static database or a one-off data grab, but is clearly being updated -- from as early as 2014 to mid 2017. I cannot speculate whether it is UIDAI that is providing this information to [the utility provider], or if the banks or gas companies are, but it seems that everyone's information is available, with no authentication -- no rate limit, nothing,” ZDNet quotes him as saying.
The Aadhar database has information of over a billion Indian citizens. And with nearly every service such as mobile numbers, bank accounts, investment schemes, insurance policies asking citizens to link their Aadhaar cards, all this information is vulnerable.
Interestingly, this comes at a time when UIDAI and the Indian government is stressing on the security of Aadhaar. On Thursday, Ajay Bhushan gave a technical presentation to defend the Aadhar system as part of the on-going Supreme Court case, which is hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar.
He claimed that the personal data given when signing up for Aadhaar cannot be hacked and is encrypted. “It would take the world’s fastest computer the whole universe’s strength to break the Aadhaar encryption system,” he has been quoted as saying.
The nodal agency has also claimed that the data cannot be stored by any third party as it has a hidden barcode that carried the details of an original holder.