Russian Hackers steal over 1.2 billion website passwords
A Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion user name and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses, security researchers say.
The records, discovered by Hold Security, a firm in Milwaukee, include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, including household names, and small Internet sites. Hold Security has a history of uncovering significant hacks, including the theft last year of tens of millions of records from Adobe Systems.
Hold Security would not name the victims, citing nondisclosure agreements and a reluctance to name companies whose sites remained vulnerable. At the request of The New York Times, a security expert not affiliated with Hold Security analyzed the database of stolen credentials and confirmed it was authentic. Another computer crime expert who had reviewed the data, but was not allowed to discuss it publicly, said some big companies were aware that their records were among the stolen information.
Alex Holden of Hold Security said most of the targeted websites were still vulnerable.CreditDarren Hauck for The New York Times
“Hackers did not just target U.S. companies, they targeted any website they could get, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to very small websites,” said Alex Holden, the founder and chief information security officer of Hold Security. “And most of these sites are still vulnerable.”
Mr. Holden, who is paid to consult on the security of corporate websites, decided to make details of the attack public this week to coincide with discussions at an industry conference and to let the many small sites he will not be able to contact know that they should look into the problem.
There is worry among some in the security community that keeping personal information out of the hands of thieves is increasingly a losing battle. In December, 40 million credit card numbers and 70 million addresses, phone numbers and additional pieces of personal information were stolen from the retail giant Target by hackers in Eastern Europe.
And in October, federal prosecutors said an identity theft service in Vietnam managed to obtain as many as 200 million personal records, including Social Security numbers, credit card data and bank account information from Court Ventures, a company now owned by the data brokerage firm Experian.
But the discovery by Hold Security dwarfs those incidents, and the size of the latest discovery has prompted security experts to call for improved identity protection on the web.
“Companies that rely on user names and passwords have to develop a sense of urgency about changing this,” said Avivah Litan, a security analyst at the research firm Gartner. “Until they do, criminals will just keep stockpiling people’s credentials.”
Websites inside Russia had been hacked, too, and Mr. Holden said he saw no connection between the hackers and the Russian government. He said he planned to alert law enforcement after making the research public, though the Russian government has not historically pursued accused hackers.
So far, the criminals have not sold many of the records online. Instead, they appear to be using the stolen information to send spam on social networks like Twitter at the behest of other groups, collecting fees for their work.
But selling more of the records on the black market would be lucrative.
While a credit card can be easily canceled, personal credentials like an email address, Social Security number or password can be used for identity theft. Because people tend to use the same passwords for different sites, criminals test stolen credentials on websites where valuable information can be gleaned, like those of banks and brokerage firms.
Like other computer security consulting firms, Hold Security has contacts in the criminal hacking community and has been monitoring and even communicating with this particular group for some time.
The hacking ring is based in a small city in south central Russia, the region flanked by Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The group includes fewer than a dozen men in their 20s who know one another personally — not just virtually. Their computer servers are thought to be in Russia.
“There is a division of labor within the gang,” Mr. Holden said. “Some are writing the programming, some are stealing the data. It’s like you would imagine a small company; everyone is trying to make a living.”
They began as amateur spammers in 2011, buying stolen databases of personal information on the black market. But in April, the group accelerated its activity. Mr. Holden surmised they partnered with another entity, whom he has not identified, that may have shared hacking techniques and tools.
Yet for all the new security mousetraps, data security breaches have only gotten larger, more frequent and more costly. The average total cost of a data breach to a company increased 15 percent this year from last year, to $3.5 million per breach, from $3.1 million, according to a joint study last May, published by the Ponemon Institute, an independent research group, and IBM.
Last February, Mr. Holden also uncovered a database of 360 million records for sale, which were collected from multiple companies.
“The ability to attack is certainly outpacing the ability to defend,” said Lillian Ablon, a security researcher at the RAND Corporation. “We’re constantly playing this cat and mouse game, but ultimately companies just patch and pray.”
I swear the greatest hacker's are born from russia.
They must have the best education and the least worry since USA or any other country for that matter injunction doesn't apply in russia
This is scary!:(