How Jamaica did not deal with its JamCOVID scandal – TechCrunch

How Jamaica failed to handle its JamCOVID scandal – TechCrunch


As governments scrambled to lock down their populations after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared final March, some nations had plans underway to reopen. By June, Jamaica grew to become one of many first nations to open its borders.

Tourism represents about one-fifth of Jamaica’s economy. In 2019 alone, 4 million vacationers visited Jamaica, bringing hundreds of jobs to its three million residents. However as COVID-19 stretched into the summer time, Jamaica’s financial system was in free fall, and tourism was its solely means again — even when that meant at the expense of public health.

The Jamaican authorities contracted with Amber Group, a expertise firm headquartered in Kingston, to construct a border entry system permitting residents and vacationers again onto the island. The system was named JamCOVID and was rolled out as an app and a web site to permit guests to get screened earlier than they arrive. To cross the border, vacationers needed to add a unfavorable COVID-19 take a look at outcome to JamCOVID earlier than boarding their flight from high-risk nations, together with the US.

Amber Group’s CEO Dushyant Savadia boasted that his firm developed JamCOVID in “three days” and that it successfully donated the system to the Jamaican authorities, which in flip pays Amber Group for extra options and customizations. The rollout gave the impression to be successful, and Amber Group later secured contracts to roll out its border entry system to no less than 4 different Caribbean islands.

However final month TechCrunch revealed that JamCOVID uncovered immigration paperwork, passport numbers, and COVID-19 lab take a look at outcomes on near half one million vacationers — together with many People — who visited the island over the previous 12 months. Amber Group had set the entry to the JamCOVID cloud server to public, permitting anybody to entry its information from their internet browser.

Whether or not the information publicity was attributable to human error or negligence, it was an embarrassing mistake for a expertise firm — and, by extension, the Jamaican authorities — to make.

And that may have been the tip of it. As a substitute, the federal government’s response grew to become the story.

A trio of safety lapses

By the tip of the primary wave of coronavirus, contact tracing apps have been nonetheless in their infancy and few governments had plans in place to display screen vacationers as they arrived at their borders. It was a scramble for governments to construct or purchase expertise to know the unfold of the virus.

Jamaica was one in all a handful of nations utilizing location data to watch vacationers, prompting rights teams to raise concerns about privateness and information safety.

As a part of an investigation right into a broad vary of those COVID-19 apps and providers, TechCrunch discovered that JamCOVID was storing information on an uncovered, passwordless server.

This wasn’t the primary time TechCrunch discovered security flaws or exposed data via our reporting. It additionally was not the primary pandemic-related safety scare. Israeli spyware and adware maker NSO Group left real location data on an unprotected server that it used for demonstrating its new contact tracing system. Norway was one of many first nations with a contact tracing app, however pulled it after the nation’s privateness authority discovered the continual monitoring of residents’ location was a privateness danger.

Simply as we have now with some other story, we contacted who we thought was the server’s proprietor. We alerted Jamaica’s Ministry of Well being to the information publicity on the weekend of February 13. However after we provided specific details of the publicity to ministry spokesperson Stephen Davidson, we didn’t hear again. Two days later, the information was nonetheless uncovered.

After we spoke to 2 American vacationers whose information was spilling from the server, we narrowed down the proprietor of the server to Amber Group. We contacted its chief govt Savadia on February 16, who acknowledged the e-mail however didn’t remark, and the server was secured about an hour later.

We ran our story that afternoon. After we printed, the Jamaican authorities issued a statement claiming the lapse was “found on February 16” and was “instantly rectified,” neither of which have been true.

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As a substitute, the federal government responded by launching a criminal investigation into whether or not there was any “unauthorized” entry to the unprotected information that led to our first story, which we perceived to be a thinly veiled risk directed at this publication. The federal government stated it had contacted its abroad legislation enforcement companions.

When reached, a spokesperson for the FBI declined to say whether or not the Jamaican authorities had contacted the company.

Issues didn’t get significantly better for JamCOVID. Within the days that adopted the primary story, the federal government engaged a cloud and cybersecurity marketing consultant, Escala 24×7, to evaluate JamCOVID’s safety. The outcomes weren’t disclosed, however the firm stated it was confident there was “no present vulnerability” in JamCOVID. Amber Group additionally stated that the lapse was a “utterly remoted incidence.”

Per week glided by and TechCrunch alerted Amber Group to 2 extra safety lapses. After the eye from the primary report, a safety researcher who noticed the information of the primary lapse discovered exposed private keys and passwords for JamCOVID’s servers and databases hidden on its web site, and a third lapse that spilled quarantine orders for greater than half one million vacationers.

Amber Group and the federal government claimed it faced “cyberattacks, hacking and mischievous gamers.” In actuality, the app was simply not that safe.

Politically inconvenient

The safety lapses come at a politically inconvenient time for the Jamaican authorities, because it makes an attempt to launch a nationwide identification system, or NIDS, for the second time. NIDS will retailer biographic information on Jamaican nationals, together with their biometrics, akin to their fingerprints.

The repeat effort comes two years after the federal government’s first legislation was struck down by Jamaica’s Excessive Courtroom as unconstitutional.

Critics have cited the JamCOVID safety lapses as a purpose to drop the proposed nationwide database. A coalition of privateness and rights teams cited the recent issues with JamCOVID for why a nationwide database is “doubtlessly harmful for Jamaicans’ privateness and safety.” A spokesperson for Jamaica’s opposition social gathering told local media that there “wasn’t a lot confidence in NIDS within the first place.”

It’s been greater than a month since we printed the first story and there are lots of unanswered questions, together with how Amber Group secured the contract to construct and run JamCOVID, how the cloud server grew to become uncovered, and if safety testing was carried out earlier than its launch.

TechCrunch emailed each the Jamaican prime minister’s workplace and Jamaica’s nationwide safety minister Matthew Samuda to ask how a lot, if something, the federal government donated or paid to Amber Group to run JamCOVID and what safety necessities, if any, have been agreed upon for JamCOVID. We didn’t get a response.

Amber Group additionally has not stated how a lot it has earned from its authorities contracts. Amber Group’s Savadia declined to disclose the worth of the contracts to at least one native newspaper. Savadia didn’t reply to our emails with questions on its contracts.

Following the second safety lapse, Jamaica’s opposition social gathering demanded that the prime minister launch the contracts that govern the settlement between the federal government and Amber Group. Prime Minister Andrew Holness stated at a press convention that the general public “ought to know” about authorities contracts however warned “legal hurdles” might forestall disclosure, akin to for nationwide safety causes or when “delicate commerce and industrial data” is perhaps disclosed.

That got here days after native newspaper The Jamaica Gleaner had a request to obtain contracts revealing the salaries state officers denied by the federal government below a authorized clause that stops the disclosure of a person’s non-public affairs. Critics argue that taxpayers have a proper to know the way a lot authorities officers are paid from public funds.

Jamaica’s opposition social gathering additionally requested what was completed to inform victims.

Authorities minister Samuda initially downplayed the safety lapse, claiming just 700 people have been affected. We scoured social media for proof however discovered nothing. Thus far, we’ve discovered no proof that the Jamaican authorities ever knowledgeable vacationers of the safety incident — both the tons of of hundreds of affected vacationers whose information was exposed, or the 700 those that the federal government claimed it notified however has not publicly launched.

TechCrunch emailed the minister to request a duplicate of the discover that the federal government allegedly despatched to victims, however we didn’t obtain a response. We additionally requested Amber Group and Jamaica’s prime minister’s workplace for remark. We didn’t hear again.

Most of the victims of the safety lapse are from the US. Neither of the 2 People we spoke to in our first report have been notified of the breach.

Spokespeople for the attorneys normal of New York and Florida, whose residents’ data was exposed, informed TechCrunch that that they had not heard from both the Jamaican authorities or the contractor, regardless of state legal guidelines requiring information breaches to be disclosed.

The reopening of Jamaica’s borders got here at a price. The island noticed over a hundred new cases of COVID-19 within the month that adopted, the bulk arriving from the US. From June to August, the variety of new coronavirus instances went from tens to dozens to tons of every day.

Thus far, Jamaica has reported over 39,500 instances and 600 deaths attributable to the pandemic.

Prime Minister Holness mirrored on the choice to reopen its borders final month in parliament to announce the country’s annual budget. He stated the nation’s financial decline final was “pushed by an enormous 70% contraction in our vacationer business.” Greater than 525,000 vacationers — each residents and vacationers — have arrived in Jamaica because the borders opened, Holness stated, a determine barely greater than the variety of vacationers’ data discovered on the uncovered JamCOVID server in February.

Holness defended reopening the nation’s borders.

“Had we not completed this the autumn out in tourism revenues would have been 100% as an alternative of 75%, there can be no restoration in employment, our stability of fee deficit would have worsened, general authorities revenues would have been threatened, and there can be no argument to be made about spending extra,” he stated.

Each the Jamaican authorities and Amber Group benefited from opening the nation’s borders. The federal government needed to revive its falling financial system, and Amber Group enriched its enterprise with contemporary authorities contracts. However neither paid sufficient consideration to cybersecurity, and victims of their negligence should know why.


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