Breach, Data Security, Network Security

Test platform leaks Bank of America clients’ Covid-19 PPP loan applications

Bank of America has disclosed that it briefly exposed certain business clients' Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) applications to outside parties after uploading the documents onto a test platform.

The incident bears similarities to the recent news of at least states mistakenly exposing application information related to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

Both the PPP and PUA programs were established by the 2020 CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act to help provide financial security to certain businesses or workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts said the PUA breaches were in large part the result of overburdened governments swiftly propping up web services to process a large influx of applications -- and it's possible the Bank of America data leak was caused by similar issues.

According to BofA, it's been collaborating over the last several weeks with the U.S. Treasury and Small Business Administration (SBA) to process more than 305,000 applications for the business loan program. It's not stated how many of those applications were affected.

"From what I see, this doesn’t appear to be a breach of security or integrity of the site itself as nothing was broken. Rather this is an example of lax, or not fully thorough, business processes that ended up revealing more information than necessary to parties that should not be privy to that information," said Dmitriy Ayrapetov, VP of platform architecture at SonicWall. "This is unfortunate, but expected, as companies and banks rush to these programs."

In an official data breach notice submitted to affected customers and California's Office of the Attorney General, the financial institution said the platform was designed to test application submissions of to the Small Business Administration before officially sending them off to the SBA.

But while performing such tests on April 22, Bank of America realized that its clients' documents could also be viewed by other lenders and their vendors who were also authorized to use the platform. The bank has assured customers that the information was quickly removed from the platform and there is no reason to believe the other lenders and vendors have misused the leaked documentation.

"This type of breach... is 'better' than a breach in which attackers with malicious intent steal information through the insecurity of the applications and through inadequate protection," Ayrapetov continued. "As we witnessed with Covid-19, as well as other global events, there is always a rash of people trying to exploit a situation. Thankfully, this particular instance doesn’t appear to be that type of a breach and should allow for SBA to check for similar issues in their process with other banks."

Exposed data included information related to applicants' businesses -- including addresses, phone numbers and tax identification numbers -- as well as personal details such as names, home addresses, Social Security numbers, phone numbers, email addresses and citizenship status.

In response to the incident, BofA said affected clients are eligible for two free years of ID theft protection and credit report monitoring.

Bradley Barth

As director of multimedia content strategy at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for online conferences, webcasts, podcasts video/multimedia projects — often serving as moderator or host. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

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