voterA researcher named Chris Vickery made an unsettling discovery recently when he uncovered a database of what appears to be U.S. voter registration information, completely unprotected and available for anyone online to find. After alerting security watchdog site DataBreaches.net, Vickery teamed up with site administrators and a digital security blogger named Steve Ragan to try and track down who built and published the database, but they came up empty. With multiple political data firms denying involvement and the FBI pointing them to the Secret Service (which failed to respond to requests), DataBreaches decided to publish the information to make the public aware that this breach had occurred. All told, an estimated 191 million Americans’ personal data is included within this database — which amounts to nearly 80% of adults in the U.S. If you’re concerned, you have a right to be. Here’s what you need to know.

What information was exposed?

Information found in this database, which dates back to 2000, includes legal names, home addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, party affiliations and records of voting history (such as whether the person voted in the primaries or general elections). Fortunately, social security numbers and financial information were not part of this particular database, although that’s a small comfort considering this database in the wrong hands could tell anyone who wants to know exactly where a specific person lives, how to contact them and what their political views are. Searches performed by the researchers who discovered the database proved the information in it to be correct and up to date — suggesting it is legitimate and likely contains the information of nearly every registered voter in the country.

Who is responsible for this breach?

Despite a thorough investigation into the matter, so far none of the independent researchers looking into this breach have been able to figure out who originally created the database — or who is responsible for the misconfiguration that left it open to just anyone. Steve Ragan contacted multiple political data firms to try and get to the bottom of who is hosting the database, but all of them denied involvement.

What purpose does a voter registration database serve?

You might be wondering why such a database would exist in the first place and who would have access to it. According to Forbes, although voter information is public record, each state has different laws regarding who can access the information and what purpose it can be used for. While some states like Colorado and Arkansas place no restrictions on voter information, others like California place heavy restrictions on any non-political use. Databases like the one Vickery unearthed are often compiled and provided to state governments or political parties to assist with campaigns, since it’s important for those running for office to know exactly who is voting within their district.

Why should I be concerned?

Although this database doesn’t contain highly sensitive information like your social security number, the fact that all of this identifying information is sitting around unprotected with no one taking responsibility should be a concern. Privacy is becoming less easy to protect, and after the debacle with the Office of Personnel Management breach, it should be a concern for the government that voters’ information has been exposed in this manner.

At this time, with nobody claiming responsibility and research into the matter turning up nothing, there isn’t much you can do except to be on the lookout for potential spam mail or phone calls. If the wrong people were to get their hands on this database, which is possible since it’s still hanging out in cyberspace and DataBreaches doesn’t know how many people have already accessed and downloaded it, many Americans could be looking at an influx of spam and other unpleasant invasions of privacy including identity theft.

Can identity theft protection services help?

Yes and no. While these services cannot tell you if your information was revealed in this breach or prevent you from falling victim to identity theft, they can help you keep tabs on who has your personal information through public records searches and Internet black market scans, which alert you if your personal information — such as your name, financial information or social security number — is being sold or traded in black market websites or chat rooms. In addition, the top-rated identity theft protection services provide you with copies of your three-bureau credit reports and scores to help you keep track of your credit history and alert you if any changes are made. And in the event that you do fall victim to identity theft while you’re signed up for an identity theft protection service, you will be connected to an identity theft restoration specialist who assists you as you take the necessary steps to restore your identity. If you’re not certain an identity theft protection service is the solution, most of the top-rated services, such as Identity Guard, Trusted ID and LifeLock, offer free trials so you can test out the service before you make a financial commitment.

Visit our identity theft protection service reviews to see which may be the best option for you, and learn more about protecting your identity online by following our identity theft protection blog.