360 million newly stolen credentials on black market: cybersecurity firm

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360 million newly stolen credentials on black market: cybersecurity firm
John Mulligan, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Target Corp., left, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Michael Kingston, senior vice president and chief information officer of Neiman Marcus Group Inc., in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. Recent cyberattacks on payment systems at Target Corp. and other U.S. retailers show that U.S. laws designed to protect consumer data need updating, lawmakers said yesterday at the first of three congressional hearings on the matter. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Fran Rosch, senior vice president of mobility at Symantec Corp., from right, Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel with the Consumers Union, Michael Kingston, senior vice president and chief information officer of Neiman Marcus Group Inc., and John Mulligan, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Target Corp., testify during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. Recent cyberattacks on payment systems at Target Corp. and other U.S. retailers show that U.S. laws designed to protect consumer data need updating, lawmakers said yesterday at the first of three congressional hearings on the matter. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Michael Kingston, senior vice president and chief information officer of Neiman Marcus Group Inc., swears in to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. Recent cyberattacks on payment systems at Target Corp. and other U.S. retailers show that U.S. laws designed to protect consumer data need updating, lawmakers said yesterday at the first of three congressional hearings on the matter. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A couple of shoppers leave a Target store on a rainy afternoon in Alhambra, California on December19, 2013, as the US retail giant said some 40 million customers may have had bank card data compromised by hackers who broke into its database as holiday shopping got underway. Target said there had been 'unauthorized access' to its payment system in US stores affecting credit and debit cards with approximately 40 million credit and debit cards possibly affected by the breach between November 27 and December 15, the company said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. Brown (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 28, 2011, file photo, the Target web site is photographed on a computer screen at a coffee shop in Providence, R.I.. American shoppers say they are very concerned about the safety of their personal information following a massive security breach at Target, but most aren?t doing anything to ensure their data is secure, says a new Associated Press--GfK Poll released Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
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(Reuters) - 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 funds."

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 fraud losses.

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 website (bit.ly/1fo5fxx).

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Amanda Kwan)

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