THE UNITED NATIONS accidentally published passwords, internal documents, and technical details about websites when it misconfigured popular project management service Trello, issue tracking app Jira, and office suite Google Docs.

The mistakes made sensitive material available online to anyone with the proper link, rather than only to specific users who should have access. Affected data included credentials for a U.N. file server, the video conferencing system at the U.N.’s language school, and a web development environment for the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Security researcher Kushagra Pathak discovered the accidental leak and notified the U.N. about what he found a little over a month ago. As of today, much of the material appears to have been taken down.

In an online chat, Pathak said he found the sensitive information by running searches on Google. The searches, in turn, produced public Trello pages, some of which contained links to the public Google Docs and Jira pages.

Trello projects are organized into “boards” that contain lists of tasks called “cards.” Boards can be public or private. After finding one public Trello board run by the U.N., Pathak found additional public U.N. boards by using “tricks like by checking if the users of one Trello board are also active on some other boards and so on.” One U.N. Trello board contained links to an issue tracker hosted on Jira, which itself contained even more sensitive information. Pathak also discovered links to documents hosted on Google Docs and Google Drive that were configured to be accessible to anyone who knew their web addresses. Some of these documents contained passwords.

Pathak has become something of a specialist in finding private information on public Trello boards. Earlier this year, he discovered a range of private data, including passwords and security plans, belonging to the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada on 50 unprotected boards. Before that, he uncovered a large swath of sensitive data on Trello belonging to dozens of other organizations, including a “well-known ride-sharing company.” Some of the companies used publicly visible Trello boards as a way to internally share passwords for logging into their websites and contact databases, as well as accounts for email, social media, and credit card processing.

Pathak’s research has served to highlight just how often organizations completely fail when trying to handle the passwords and myriad other secrets needed to work and publish online. Here is just some of the sensitive information that the U.N. accidentally made accessible to anyone who Googled for it:

  • A social media team promoting the U.N.’s “peace and security” efforts published credentials to access a U.N. remote file access, or FTP, server in a Trello card coordinating promotion of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. It is not clear what information was on the server; Pathak said he did not connect to it.
  • The U.N.’s Language and Communication Programme, which offers language courses at U.N. Headquarters in New York City, published credentials for a Google account and a Vimeo account. The program also exposed, on a publicly visible Trello board, credentials for a test environment for a human resources web app. It also made public a Google Docs spreadsheet, linked from a public Trello board, that included a detailed meeting schedule for 2018, along with passwords to remotely access the program’s video conference system to join these meetings.
  • One public Trello board used by the developers of Humanitarian Response and ReliefWeb, both websites run by the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, included sensitive information like internal task lists and meeting notes. One public card from the board had a PDF, marked “for internal use only,” that contained a map of all U.N. buildings in New York City. Another card had an attached PDF that included a phone tree with names and phones numbers of people working for a division of U.N.’s human resources department. Some cards contained links to internal documents hosted on Google Docs that, in turn, contained sensitive information about web development projects, including a web address and password to access a staging environment to test early features of the website.
  • The U.N. website developers also used a public Jira bug tracker that contained detailed technical information about how the sites were developed and what issues they were having.

On August 20, Pathak reported exposed data to the U.N.’s information security team. On September 4, the U.N. replied to say it would review his findings. On September 12, another U.N. email stated, “We were not able to reproduce ths[sic] reported vulnerability. May we request you to provide the exact Google search criteria that was used?” Also on September 12, The Intercept contacted the U.N.


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Micah Lee is a computer security engineer and an open source software developer.