Research from NordVPN: Microsoft Bing Server Exposed Users' Search Queries, Leaving Millions Vulnerable

A massive data leak exposes millions of search queries for adult content on Bing and leaves users vulnerable to extortion threats.

London, United Kingdom, October 29, 2020 --( On September 12, WizCase found a massive 6.5TB Bing cache of log files, left for anyone to access. A back-end server associated with Microsoft Bing exposed sensitive data of users who used the search engine's mobile application. The exposed data included search queries, device details, GPS coordinates, and more. No personal details, such as names or addresses, were leaked. “Regardless, exposed GPS coordinates are equally concerning,” says Daniel Markusson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN.

NordVPN’s researchers analyzed the top 1,000 search terms from the US, Canada, and Hong Kong (the main Bing markets) to estimate the sensitivity of the queries.

What dominates the search queries

Within 30 days, at least 1.6 million queries related to adult content were made in the US, while 1.4 million came from Canada, and 36,000 from Hong Kong. Such queries account for 4% of all search queries in each of these countries. “While the top search queries are attributed to attempts to reach online services like Facebook, YouTube, or Google, a considerable number of people were interested in more delicate content, and this makes them more vulnerable,” says Daniel Markuson.

Additionally, at least 102,000 people were trying to get to POF, a Canadian online dating service (by estimated search volumes, it trended on the 22nd position). Americans expressed great interest in Bing’s homepage quiz, which was 5th by overall search volumes.

Peculiar queries from Hong Kong involved interest in movies with Jim Carrey (1,500 estimated searches) and Bill Murray (1,000 estimated searches). Hongkongers have also been deeply interested in seeing a commercial featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates.

Why should this data leak be considered more seriously?

The leaked data contains GPS coordinates of where the Bing search query was made, which could be used to link a query to a person.

“The smallest, seemingly benign actions are potentially tracked and analyzed every second, including basic movements like mouse clicks or touch screen taps. Knowing what you are interested in and having your coordinates can cause too much damage,” adds Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN.

Here’s the game plan the digital privacy expert recommends to those affected by the data leak: “Always use a VPN, particularly when using public/unsecured networks. If you have been using Bing lately, don’t click mindlessly on links in suspicious emails, and definitely try to avoid apps and websites that bombard you with annoying ads. Additionally, change your passwords to prevent potential brute-force attacks subsequent to the data leak.”

Methodology: NordVPN researchers used Bing’s search term analysis tools to extract the top 1,000 search queries by volumes. The analysis was based on search volumes in 30 days. Time frame: August 23 - September 23, 2020.

About NordVPN

NordVPN is the world’s most advanced VPN service provider, used by over 14 million internet users worldwide. NordVPN provides double VPN encryption, malware blocking, and Onion Over VPN. The product is very user-friendly, offers one of the best prices on the market, has over 5,000 servers in 60 countries worldwide, and is P2P-friendly. One of the key features of NordVPN is zero-log policy. For more information:
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