I was going through the webserver statistics for this site to see if any new sites had linked to any of my articles (it is always nice to see that what I have to say is useful to someone). Anyway, I ran across someone who had come to my site through a Google query (I won't mention what the query was for reasons you'll soon see). I ran the same query on Google to see what else came up since it was a rather unique query. Another Google link was for a site that looked like it had raw data - not your usual HTML pages.

When I went to the site I found what looked like a website developer's development directory wide open to the internet. There were at least three company's websites sitting in subdirectories. The file referred to in the Google result page was a backup of an SQL database dump file. Not just any database file - a backup of all the customer information for running one site's shopping cart database. It included names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers! (I didn't poke around to see if it had any more sensitive data).

I was able to figure out the original data owner's domain name from some info in the header of the file. So I just sent them an email letting them know that their customer information is posted for all to see on someone else's website. It will be interesting to see if they respond. I hope it is just their website developer who has a test server running and accidentally left this SQL dump in a publicly accessible area of their webserver. I'd hate to think this data was stolen from the real website and being used for spamming purposes.

As a software developer I've read numerous cautionary tales of accidental (and malicious) data theft occurring when real customer data is used in test systems. I just never imagined I'd stumble across such an egregious privacy violation. So this experience makes me wonder about all the online systems into which we type our personal information. All it takes is one careless developer (not even a malicious one) to expose our private information to a much wider audience...