Report: Data Breach in Adult Site Compromises Privacy of All Users
Led by Noam Rotem and Ran Locar, vpnMentor’s research team discovered a data breach in adult site Luscious.
Luscious is a niche pornographic image site focused primarily on animated, user-uploaded content. Based on the research carried out by our team, the site has over 1 million registered users. Each user has a profile, the details of which could be accessed through our research.
Private profiles allow users to upload, share, comment on, and discuss content on Luscious. All of this is understandably done while keeping their identity hidden behind usernames.
The data breach our team discovered compromises this anonymity by potentially allowing hackers to access the personal details of users, including their personal email address. The highly sensitive and private nature of Luscious' content makes users incredibly vulnerable to a range of attacks and exploitation by malicious hackers.
Timeline of Discovery and Owner Reaction
- Date discovered: 15/08/19
- Date owner contacted: 16/08/19
Example of Entries in the Database
The data breach gave our team access to 1.195 million user accounts on Luscious. All of these were compromised, revealing personal details of users with potentially devastating consequences.
The private personal user details we viewed included:
- Personal email addresses
- User activity logs (date joined, most recent log in)
- Country of residence/location
Some users’ email addresses indicated their full names, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation and cybercrime.
It’s worth mentioning that we estimate 20% of emails on Luscious accounts use fake email addresses to sign up. This suggests that some Luscious users are actively taking extra steps to remain anonymous.
User Behaviours & Activities
The data breach also gave a complete overview of user activities. This allowed us to view things like:
- The number of image albums they had created
- Video uploads
- Blog posts
- Followers and accounts followed
- Their User ID number - so we can know if they’re active or have been banned
While some of this information is visible to other users, much of it was hidden in the website’s database. All of this combined information creates valuable insights into how people use Luscious.
Our team was also able to view details of blog posts and content published on Luscious. This included the author’s details, along with the number of likes, when published, category, etc.
Some of these blog posts were extremely personal - including depressive or otherwise vulnerable content - and kept anonymous. Due to this data breach, however, the blog posts are no longer anonymous, with many of the authors’ identities revealed.
Likewise, for images uploaded to Luscious, we gained access an index of pictures with detailed information, including who created them.
The 1 million+ users affected are located around the world, with their locations also revealed in the breach. During our research, we were able to access user profiles from Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas.
For example, we found approximately 13,000 email addresses in ".fr”, representing about 1.25% of the database. Considering the number of French people who use email hosting like Gmail - ending in ".com” and based on the French names we saw on @gmail.com addresses- we estimate the actual number of French users to be around 3 times higher: approximately 40,000.
Below is a table outlining the international distribution of Luscious users, based on email addresses and our estimations of real numbers, considering Gmail accounts and Similarweb stats.
|Our estimation of users based on the email addresses found in the DB
A greater issue of concern is the fact that many users joined Luscious on official government emails. We found examples of this from users in Brazil, Australia, Italy, Malaysia, and Australia.
|Our estimation of users based on the email addresses found in the DB
|Less than a thousand
This adds a great deal of additional vulnerability not just to the users, but also their employers. With access to employee email addresses, criminal hackers can target government agencies and departments in a number of ways.
Data Breach Impact
The impact of this data breach on users could be devastating, personally and financially. Activity on adult sites like Luscious is the most private in nature, and nobody ever expects it to be revealed.
Its exposure could be ruinous for a victim’s relationships and personal lives.
The information made available in Luscious' databases gives criminal and malicious hackers many options to use this data for illicit gains and exploiting users.
Doxing refers to the act of investigating an internet user's identity and making it public, usually with malicious intent. With access to Luscious users’ email addresses and locations, hackers could easily locate their profiles on social media and similar sites.
With this information, a Luscious user is at risk of being publicly exposed for their activity on the website. They could be targeted for harassment, bullying, or having the details shared with their family, friends, and employers.
Given the nature of the content on Luscious, the effects of such a campaign could be devastating.
Once a Luscious user’s identity is compromised, they can be targeted for more than just bullying. Hackers could threaten to expose users unless they pay a ransom. Given the sensitive nature of this data breach, victims are incredibly vulnerable and likely to pay.
However, paying a ransom does not guarantee your details won’t be revealed anyway. Once this data is stolen, it can be used and sold over and over again. This leaves users open to ongoing extortion from one hacker, with potential for their Luscious activity to still be leaked by another.
Phishing refers to the creation of imitation emails sent to victims to trick them into providing passwords or other compromising information, giving access to financial accounts or credit cards, and embedding malware on a device.
A hacker or cybercriminal sends a target an email made to look like a legitimate business or organization that the victim already uses, to extract the desired information or plant malware.
By revealing personal details like email addresses and location, the Luscious data breach helps criminals target users for future exploitation, fraud, or theft. They can use this information to create effective fraudulent emails and send them directly to a user’s email inbox - that way, they also stand out from spam and junk mail.
This data breach also makes Luscious vulnerable. With over 1 million users and over 20 million visits per month, it’s a leading website within its niche. It’s also no doubt very profitable.
With the private information now revealed, Luscious’ competitors can also analyze user behavior - their favorites, what they like, how they interact with other users - and target them with better alternatives. Usually, online businesses keep all this information securely hidden, as it presents a huge risk to their business model and revenue.
Advice from the Experts
This data leak could have easily been avoided if Luscious had taken some basic security measures. These can be replicated by any company, no matter its size:
- Secure your servers.
- Implement proper access rules.
- Never leave a system that doesn’t require authentication open to the internet.
We suggest you immediately change your Luscious account details, including your username and associated email address.
For adult-themed websites, or any other websites of a sensitive nature, always create a username completely unrelated to your personal email address or any other online account.
If you have revealed your location on Luscious, remove this detail from your profile. You can also change your location using a VPN.
To learn more about your internet privacy in general, and how to avoid data breaches like this one in your life and business, read our complete guide to online privacy.
How and Why We Discovered the Breach
The breach in Luscious's databases was uncovered by the vpnMentor research team during a comprehensive web mapping project. Our cybersecurity specialists employ port scanning methods to scrutinize specific IP blocks and inspect system vulnerabilities by testing open spots. Every identified weak spot is meticulously examined for potential data leakage.
When they find a data breach, they use expert techniques to verify the database’s identity. We then alert the company to the breach. If possible, we will also alert those affected by the breach.
Our team was able to access this database because it was completely unsecured and unencrypted.
The company uses an Elasticsearch database, which is ordinarily not designed for URL use. However, we were able to access it via browser and manipulate the URL search criteria into exposing schemata from a single index at any time.
The purpose of this web mapping project is to help make the internet safer for all users.
As ethical hackers, we’re obliged to inform a company when we discover flaws in their online security. This is especially true when the companies data breach contains such private information.
However, these ethics also mean we carry a responsibility to the public. Luscious users must be aware of a data breach that impacts them also.
About Us and Previous Reports
vpnMentor is the world’s largest VPN review website. Our research lab is a pro bono service that strives to help the online community defend itself against cyber threats while educating organizations on protecting their users’ data. We recently discovered a huge data breach impacting 80 million US households. We also revealed that a breach in Biostar 2 compromised the biometric data of over 1 million people. You may also want to read our VPN Leak Report and Data Privacy Stats Report.
[Publication date: 19.08.2019]