For years, people have been impersonating police online in order to get companies to hand over incredibly sensitive personal information. Reporting by 404 Media recently revealed that Verizon handed over the address and phone logs of an individual to a stalker pretending to be a police officer who had a PDF of a fake warrant. Worse, the imposter wasn’t particularly convincing. His request was missing a form that is required for search warrants from his state. He used the name of a police officer that did not exist in the department he claimed to be from. And he used a Proton Mail account, which any person online can use, rather than an official government email address.
Likewise, bad actors have used breached law enforcement email accounts or domain names to send fake warrants, subpoenas, or “Emergency Data Requests” (which police can send without judicial oversight to get data quickly in supposedly life or death situations). Impersonating police to get sensitive information from companies isn’t just the realm of stalkers and domestic abusers; according to Motherboard, bounty hunters and debt collectors have also used the tactic.
We have two very big entwined problems. The first is the “collect it all” business model of too many companies, which creates vast reservoirs of personal information stored in corporate data servers, ripe for police to seize and thieves to steal. The second is that too many companies fail to prevent thieves from stealing data by pretending to be police.