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Privacy breach nuked in Canadian passport site

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Red-faced Canadian passport officials say they've closed a privacy breach on their website that leaked the personal information of applicants, including their driver's license numbers, birth dates - even whether they owned a gun.

The hole was discovered last week by an Ontario man who found a simple way to cause the Passport Canada site to volunteer information about people he never even met. Altering the URL that was in the address bar of his browser while viewing his own application, he found it was possible to view the applications of others.

Passport officials called Jamie Laning's experience "an isolated anomaly" and insisted their site remained highly secure. But The Globe and Mail, which broke the story on Tuesday, said the website continued to reveal applicants' names, home addresses and emergency contacts, after resuming operation yesterday afternoon. (Story is here.)

"This is precisely the sort of information a bank might ask someone to confirm they are who they claim to be before giving them a mortgage," said Carlisle Adams, a professor specializing in privacy and network security at the University of Ottawa.

Passport Canada's gaffe is the latest example of a large government agency having trouble safeguarding its citizens' personal information. Last month the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs lost child benefit records relating to 25 million people. The US Department of Veterans Affairs has also exposed the records of 25.6 million people following the theft of a laptop.

Jamie Laning, the 47-year-old IT worker who discovered the breach, informed passport officials of the breach last week, and the site was temporarily closed through Monday. A Passport Canada representative acknowledged a security problem to The Globe and Mail, but said the outage was caused by different problems.

We'd be interested in hearing from Canadian citizens about whether the breach on the Passport Canada site has, in fact, been fixed. Leave your comments below. ®

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