The records, discovered by Hold Security, include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, ranging from household names to 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, says a New York Times report.
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.
So far, the criminals have not sold many of the records online, says the New York Times.
"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," the New York Times report says.
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 New York Times says.
"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 believed to be in Russia," says the report.
By July, criminals were able to collect 4.5 billion records — each a username and password — though many overlapped. After sorting through the data, Hold Security found that 1.2 billion of those records were unique. Because people tend to use multiple emails, they filtered further and found that the criminals’ database included about 542 million unique email addresses, says the Times report.
Holden said his team had begun alerting victimized companies to the breaches, but had been unable to reach every website. He said his firm was also trying to come up with an online tool that would allow individuals to securely test for their information in the database.
Read more: www.nytimes.com