Indian state government website exposed COVID-19 lab test results

A security flaw in a website run by the government of West Bengal in India exposed the lab results of at least hundreds of thousands of residents, though likely millions, who took a COVID-19 test.

The website is part of the West Bengal government’s mass coronavirus testing program. Once a COVID-19 test result is ready, the government sends a text message to the patient with a link to its website containing their test results.

But security researcher Sourajeet Majumder found that the link containing the patient’s unique test identification number was scrambled with base64 encoding, which can be easily converted using online tools. Because the identification numbers were incrementally sequenced, the website bug meant that anyone could change that number in their browser’s address bar and view other patients’ test results.

The test results contain the patient’s name, sex, age, postal address, and if the patient’s lab test result came back positive, negative, or inconclusive for COVID-19.

Majumder told TechCrunch that he was concerned a malicious attacker could scrape the site and sell the data. “This is a privacy violation if somebody else gets access to my private information,” he said.

Two COVID-19 lab test results, but with details redacted, to show what kind of data has been exposed.

Two redacted COVID-19 lab test results exposed as a result of a security vulnerability on the West Bengal government’s website. (Screenshot: TechCrunch)

Majumder reported the vulnerability to India’s CERT, the country’s dedicated cybersecurity response unit, which acknowledged the issue in an email. He also contacted the West Bengal government’s website manager, who did not respond. TechCrunch independently confirmed the vulnerability and also reached out to the West Bengal government, which pulled the website offline, but did not return our requests for comment.

TechCrunch held our report until the vulnerability was fixed or no longer presented a risk. At the time of publication, the affected website remains offline.

It’s not known exactly how many COVID-19 lab results were exposed because of this security lapse, or if anyone other than Majumder discovered the vulnerability. At the time the website was pulled offline at the end of February, the state government had tested more than 8.5 million residents for COVID-19.

West Bengal is one of the most populated states of India, with about 90 million residents. Since the start of the pandemic, the state government has recorded more than 10,000 coronavirus deaths.

It’s the latest of several security incidents in the past few months to hit India and its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last May, India’s largest cell network Jio admitted a security lapse after a security researcher found a database containing the company’s coronavirus symptom checker, which Jio had launched months earlier.

In October, a security researcher found Dr Lal PathLabs left hundreds of spreadsheets containing millions of patient booking records — including for COVID-19 tests — on a public storage server that was not protected with a password, allowing anyone to access sensitive patient data.


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