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Hackers

Experts: Target Hackers Will Be Tough To Find

Experts: Target Hackers Will Be Tough To Find
January 23, 2014 9:31AM

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The discovery of 100 fake credit cards linked to the Target hack is is unlikely to lead authorities directly to the hackers behind the breach, given the vast, labyrinthine nature of the global market for stolen data. In many ways, those markets behave much like any legitimate marketplace ruled by the forces of supply and demand.

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It doesn't surprise experts that some debit and credit card numbers stolen from Target's computer systems may have surfaced among nearly 100 fake credit cards seized by police in Texas this week.

Even so, they say the bust is unlikely to lead authorities directly to the hackers behind the breach, given the vast, labyrinthine nature of the global market for stolen data.

According to police in McAllen, Texas, two Mexican citizens arrested at the border used account information stolen during the pre- Christmas Target breach to buy tens of thousands of dollars' worth of merchandise. But the U.S. Secret Service said Tuesday its investigation into the possibility of a link between the Target data theft and the arrests remains ongoing.

Target says hackers stole about 40 million debit and credit card numbers from cards swiped at its stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15. The thieves also took personal information -- including email addresses, phone numbers, names and home addresses -- for another 70 million people.

In the aftermath of the breach, millions of Americans have been left to wonder what's become of their precious personal information. Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser for the computer security firm Sophos, says in cases where such a massive amount of information is stolen, criminals generally divide the data into chunks and sell the parcels in online black markets.

In many ways, those markets behave much like any legitimate marketplace ruled by the forces of supply and demand. Groups of higher-end cards are worth significantly more than those with lower credit limits and so are cards tied to additional personal information, such as names, addresses and zip codes, which make them easier to use.

After thieves purchase the numbers, they can encode the data onto new, blank cards with an inexpensive, easy-to-use gadget. Or they can skip the card-writing process and simply use the card numbers online.

Crooks often have the option to buy cards last used in their area. That way, Wisniewski says, the cards attract less attention from the banks that issued them.

According to police, the pair arrested at the U.S.-Mexican border used cards containing the account information of Target shoppers from South Texas. Police say the two used fraudulent cards to purchase numerous items at national retailers in the area.

The underground markets always have a steady supply of card numbers on sale and their locations are always moving as they try to elude law enforcement, says Daniel Ingevaldson, chief technology officer at Easy Solutions Inc., a firm that sells anti-fraud products and tracks the activity of the online black markets. A big jump in inventory usually indicates there's been a breach of a major retailer. That's what Ingevaldson's firm saw in the cases of both Target and Neiman Marcus, which also recently reported a breach. (continued...)

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