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PROTECTING YOURSELF AGAINST IDENTITY THEFT?
Sometimes That's Not Enough

09/03/04

Identity Theft GraphicTake a recent case in point: The president of a Florida bulk e-mail company was recently indicted on charges of illegally hacking into the database of another company--one that operates one of the world's largest computer repositories of financial, corporate, and personal data from major banks, credit card companies, corporations, and the U.S. Government. A virtual treasure trove of personal data on Americans--and closely protected.

Yet this bulk e-mail company managed to hack into the database more than 139 times and download more than 8.2 gigabytes of personal information over a 16-month period. It was one of the biggest cases of computer intrusion we've ever seen.

How much is 8.2 gigabytes of information? Think 4 million type-written pages...or the complete works of William Shakespeare--copied 8,000 times.

How was the downloaded information used? Fraudulently. The company is charged with sending e-mail blasts of advertisements--on behalf of unwitting client companies--to targeted customers in massive spamming campaigns. It is also charged with selling customer lists to other companies and falsifying their demographics. For example, the people named on the list from a well-known casino were allegedly sold to a pharmaceutical company as people who used prescription drugs.

How was the case cracked? Local investigators looking into a separate computer attack on the victim company in this case last year discovered evidence of additional intrusions and sought assistance from the FBI, the Secret Service, and several U.S. Attorney's Offices. Working with experts from the Dallas Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory--and with the superb assistance of the victim company--federal investigators established a joint task force and immediately set out analyzing massive amounts of computer evidence and conducting dozens of interviews. They ultimately uncovered a cyber trail which led straight back to the bulk e-mail company.

The moral of the story? With our partners in law enforcement and the private sector, we will leave no stone unturned in protecting Americans and their personal data from cyber criminals. In the words of Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray, "The protection of personal information stored on our nation's computer systems is critical to public trust in those networks and the health of our economy--we will aggressively pursue those who steal private information from computer networks and make it clear that there are serious consequences for such crimes."

Links: DOJ Press Release | Cyber Investigations