Zoosk data breach? Or something else?

Sell the data?

I recently got a message from you’ve been pwned, suggesting that its likely some of my personal data has been leaked via dating site Zoosk.

In approximately 2011, an alleged breach of the dating website Zoosk began circulating. Comprised of almost 53 million records, the data contained email addresses and plain text passwords. However, during extensive verification in May 2016 no evidence could be found that the data was indeed sourced from the dating service. This breach has consequently been flagged as fabricated; it’s highly unlikely the data was sourced from Zoosk.

I had a idea what fabricated meant, but I had a little read…

What is a “fabricated” breach?

Some breaches may be flagged as “fabricated”. In these cases, it is highly unlikely that the breach contains legitimate data sourced from the alleged site but it may still be sold or traded under the auspices of legitimacy. Often these incidents are comprised of data aggregated from other locations (or may be entirely fabricated), yet still contain actual email addresses of unbeknownst to the account holder. Fabricated breaches are still included in the system because regardless of their legitimacy, they still contain personal information about individuals who want to understand their exposure on the web. Further background on unverified breaches can be found in the blog post titled Introducing “fabricated” breaches to Have I been pwned.

Sold or traded!

People laughed ages ago about the idea of selling user data but lets say dating site z had lost a lot of the market due to new players in the space. They needed to stay a float, prove to their investors they are still profitable? User data would be a useful resource for revenue… Of course this is illegal but you would cover your tracks… right! Make it look like “hackers!”

The example Tony Hunt uses is Justdate.com as a example

There’s a whole other discussion to be had about what causes a bundle of data to be fabricated and called a breach in the first place. Attempts to monetise the data by selling the alleged breach, extortion of the company involved or just simple big-noting by individuals seeking notoriety are all feasible explanations for many of the fabricated breaches I see. For now, the important thing is that if your data is circulating in one of these dumps, there’s now a way to know about it.

To be clear I’m not saying Zoosk is doing this, but someone is certainly pointing the finger.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.