Military Servicemembers’ Personal Data Found For Sale Online

( – A new report from Duke University and West Point Military Academy has found a startling amount of personal information available for sale by data brokerage firms, including some that are based in the U.S. The report highlighted the additional danger of servicemembers being blackmailed or otherwise maliciously targeted by bad actors who purchase information about them.

Lawmakers and experts in the field are calling it a significant national security risk and suggesting it’s been an issue Congress hasn’t effectively dealt with because it’s not an emerging crisis, but rather a slow death by a thousand cuts.

The nearly $215 billion industry has grown in recent years with little to no regulation. Information brokers can scoop up and repackage all kinds of publicly available information about individuals from health and financial information, to habits, number of children, marital status, and more.

Researchers from Duke posed as buyers to purchase multiple packages from different data brokerage firms. They contacted five different firms, three of which agreed to sell them information about U.S. military personnel. The data had information on nearly 30,000 active duty people in various branches of the military. They also bought a supplementary package that contained 5,000 more files of their friends and family.

Head of the project at Duke Justin Sherman said it would be “very easy” for enemy nations to acquire the data.

The Consumer Data Industry Association refused to comment on specific practices and only pointed out that consumer data is regulated by state laws and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The latter is a federal law from 1999 that only applies to financial organizations, however.

The data cost researchers 12 to 32 cents per individual and also yields contact information, should a prospective blackmailer want to reach out.

Maj. Jessica Dawson initiated the study at West Point, she’s a researcher with the Army Cyber Institute on campus. Dawson pointed out that the information could be used to determine whether someone has a particular vulnerability like a gambling problem, inappropriate sexual behavior, or a mental health issue – all of which could get someone in trouble in the military.

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