Amber Group breaks silence on unsecured storage bucket; NatSec minister suggests TechCrunch reporter may have violated CyberCrime Act

The Gleaner reports a follow-up on an unsecured storage server  exposing personal information and COVID-related information of travelers to Jamaica. The exposed bucket was first reported by Zack Whittaker of TechCrunch on February 17:

The storage server, hosted on Amazon Web Services, was set to public. It’s not known for how long the data was unprotected, but contained more than 70,000 negative COVID-19 lab results, over 425,000 immigration documents authorizing travel to the island — which included the traveler’s name, date of birth and passport numbers — and over 250,000 quarantine orders dating back to June 2020, when Jamaica reopened its borders to visitors after the pandemic’s first wave. The server also contained more than 440,000 images of travelers’ signatures.

Whittaker provided additional details on their investigation and attempts at responsible disclosure in a subsequent thread on Twitter.

Today, The Gleaner reports:

Amber has not said how many files were exposed, although Senator Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the security ministry, said Friday in a Nationwide Radio interview that “just under 700” persons were impacted.

“Having gone through the initial vulnerability, he would have seen metadata. If he wants to classify that as personal data that’s up to him. If he went further than that, then, that would a breach of the Cybercrimes Act,” Samuda said of TechCrunch writer Zack Whittaker, reiterating that impacted persons have been notified.

There’s a lot more that you can read on The Gleaner, but that last sentence above stopped me cold.

When asked if he had any response or comment on the statement by Minister Samuda about his actions, Whittaker told, “I plan to respond in time.”

If the minister is suggesting a reporter engaged in investigative journalism for the public good is violating Jamaica’s Cybercrimes Act, then the minister is engaging in an incredibly dangerous precedent: threatening journalists with criminal charges for investigating and reporting on matters of public concern. What does he think will happen the next time a journalist or white hat researcher finds Jamaicans’ data exposed? Will they responsibly disclose to Jamaican entities or will they just keep it to themselves and not let Jamaica know for fear of hassles or criminal charges?  Even just his statement may have a chilling effect on responsible disclosure.

This leak occurred on the Jamaican government’s cloud server. They need to own it fully, and thank Whittaker and TechCrunch for their responsible disclosure. Threats — however subtle or matter-of-factly stated — are inappropriate.

This blogger has been on the receiving end of legal threats from both foreign and domestic entities for reporting on leaks or dumped data. I am not worried for Zack Whittaker, a highly ethical journalist, or TechCrunch.  I am, however, concerned that once again we see journalists being threatened with criminal charges for committing journalism.

Stop shooting the messenger.






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