1.2 billion stolen logins, but very few answers

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Over a billion Internet users' login credentials were stolen from half a million websites in what cybersecurity researchers said is a much larger, more invasive data breach than the one that crippled retailer Target last year.

The company that discovered the breach, Hold Security, said in an Aug. 5 statement that personal information, including passwords, user names and email addresses, was pilfered by a Russian crime gang from employers, service and goods suppliers' websites.

The Russian gang, which Hold Security dubbed "CyberVor" ("vor" means "thief" in Russian), accumulated some 4.5 billion records, mostly consisting of stolen login credentials. Of that massive trove, Hold said 1.2 billion of the credentials appear to be unique, and include more than half a billion e-mail addresses. To amass that number of credentials, the company said, the CyberVor group robbed over 420,000 web and FTP sites.

The massive breach comes only weeks after federal officials and agencies warned of persistent threats to critical infrastructure networks. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned of the dangers of cyberattacks on the financial sector in a July 16 speech in New York City, calling the cyber defense of businesses and government "a central test for all of us going forward."

Lew counseled financial services firms and vendors that serve them to use the Obama administration’s framework document for managing cyber risk for critical infrastructure. "Just as you consider your counter-parties when you take on financial risk, you should also consider your counter-parties in the area of cyber risk," he advised.

The CyberVor breach, according to Hold, collected information from a wide variety of websites, from companies large and small, employers and even individuals. The breach dwarfs the late December hack on Target. On August 5, Target said the breach that exposed millions of customers' credit and debit card data has cost the company $148 million.

Hold said the latest breach not only took aim at large companies, but "targeted every site that their victims visited."

"With hundreds of thousands sites affected, the list includes many leaders in virtually all industries across the world, as well as a multitude of small or even personal websites," the company said.

According to Hold, the thieves bootstrapped their sources, working initially with databases bought on the Black Market, using those to attack e-mail providers, social media, and other websites to get them to distribute spam to victims and install malicious redirections on legitimate systems. They also used Black Market-bought botnets to identify vulnerabilities on websites to great affect.

"These botnets used victims’ systems to identify SQL vulnerabilities on the sites they visited. The botnet conducted possibly the largest security audit ever," said the company. The botnet identified over 400,000 sites that were potentially vulnerable to the SQL injection flaws it used to steal the information, it added.

The Department of Homeland Security's Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team had warned in late June that it was watching an "ICS-focused malware campaign" emanating from Russia, but that announcement seems unrelated to CyberVor. The threats that ICS-CERT noted then dealt with a remote-action Trojan called Havex that infected industrial control systems sold by three vendors. Symantec, the security research firm that warned ICS about the activity, linked Havex to a loose association of attackers that energy suppliers call Dragonfly or Energetic Bear.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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