BOSTON Feb 25 A cybersecurity firm said on
Tuesday that it uncovered stolen credentials from some 360
million accounts that are available for sale on cyber black
markets, though it is unsure where they came from or what they
can be used to access.
The discovery could represent more of a risk to consumers
and companies than stolen credit card data because of the chance
the sets of user names and passwords could open the door to
online bank accounts, corporate networks, health records and
virtually any other type of computer system.
Alex Holden, chief information security officer of Hold
Security LLC, said in an interview that his firm obtained the
data over the past three weeks, meaning an unprecedented amount
of stolen credentials is available for sale underground.
"The sheer volume is overwhelming," said Holden, whose firm
last year helped uncover a major data breach at Adobe Systems
Inc in which tens of millions of records were stolen.
Holden said he believes the 360 million records were
obtained in separate attacks, including one that yielded some
105 million records, which would make it the largest single
credential breaches known to date.
He said he believes the credentials were stolen in breaches
that have yet to be publicly reported. The companies attacked
may remain unaware until they are notified by third parties who
find evidence of the hacking, he said.
"We have staff working around the clock to identify the
victims," he said.
He has not provided any information about the attacks to
other cybersecurity firms or authorities but intends to alert
the companies involved if his staff can identify them.
The massive trove of credentials includes user names, which
are typically email addresses, and passwords that in most cases
are in unencrypted text. Holden said that in contrast, the Adobe
breach, which he uncovered in October 2013, yielded tens of
millions of records that had encrypted passwords, which made it
more difficult for hackers to use them.
The email addresses are from major providers such as AOL Inc
, Google Inc, Microsoft Corp and Yahoo
Inc and almost all Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit
organizations. Holden said he alerted one major email provider
that is a client, but he declined to identify the company,
citing a nondisclosure agreement.
Heather Bearfield, who runs the cybersecurity practice for
accounting firm Marcum LLP, said she had no information about
the information that Hold Security uncovered but that it was
plausible for hackers to obtain such a large amount of data
because these breaches are on the rise.
She said hackers can do far more harm with stolen
credentials than with stolen payment cards, particularly when
people use the same login and password for multiple accounts.
"They can get access to your actual bank account. That is
huge," Bearfield said. "That is not necessarily recoverable
After recent payment-card data breaches, including one at
U.S. retailer Target, credit card companies stressed that
consumers bear little risk because they are refunded rapidly for
Wade Baker, a data breach investigator with Verizon
Communications Inc, said that the number of attacks
targeting payment cards through point-of-sales systems peaked in
2011. That was partly because banks and retailers have gotten
better at identifying that type of breach and quickly moving to
prevent crooks from making fraudulent transactions, he said.
In addition to the 360 million credentials, the criminals
are selling some 1.25 billion email addresses, which would be of
interest to spammers, Hold Security said in a statement on its