Hacking and Credit Card Fraud Ring Busted . . . Massive Overseas Cyber-Theft Impacts Many, Millions in Losses
It’s summer. School’s out. Vacation’s on. Time for sun and fun. Time to hit the surf. But just like in the movie “Jaws,” sometimes the waters aren’t safe. There’s a lifeguard alert: No surfing today. Hey, no prob – just stay on the beach. So relax, turn up your imagination, and picture a dark-gray dorsal fin slicing through the water. . . .
But in this case, it’s the world-wide Web ‘waters’ which are not safe – no matter the lifeguards posted. Why? ‘Cyber-sharks,’ as cunning and remorseless as the one in the movie, have been sighted. You’re not surfing the web, but are you safe on the beach?
Federal prosecutors just announced charges against four Russian nationals and one Ukrainian. They have been accused of allegedly running a sophisticated, well-coordinated hacking and credit card fraud ring – perhaps the single-largest ever busted in the U.S. Not only was the operation huge, it also showed unusual longevity. The organized crime ring operated its scheme from 2005 to 2012.
The raiders breached, then penetrated more than a dozen American companies – notably JetBlue, JC Penney, 7-Eleven and Heartland Payment Systems (one of the world’s largest debit and credit processing companies). Attacks also occurred on Citibank, PNC Bank and the Nasdaq stock exchange. The five are considered by many to be tops in their field . . . of computer hacking.
The results? The criminal group stole and sold at least 160 million credit card and debit card numbers and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
“This type of crime is really the cutting edge of financial fraud,” said U.S. District Attorney Paul Fishman at a press conference.
“Those who have the expertise . . . to break into our computer networks threaten our economic well-being, our privacy and ultimately our national security. . . . [T]hese types of frauds increase the costs of doing business for everyone in America – every consumer, every day.”
And our lifeguards? The ring was so slick, it actually anticipated (via website prowling and an anonymous Web server) and cracked corporate preventive measures – as well as personal protective services such as LifeLock. In organized, coordinated efforts the hackers would preoccupy (or distract), then open security measures; after that, confederates, the “harvesters,” would slip in. The tactic is a signature of Russian organized crime syndicates.
Fred H. Cate, director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University, gave this overview: “[This cyber crime] is a potent reminder of what researchers have been saying: The bigger threat is coming from criminal gangs, most of which are [Russian]. It’s far more impactful than threats coming from China.”
So the web ‘waters’ aren’t safe from ‘sharks.’ “[The hackers] were very patient and relentless” said Mr.. Fishman. “We cannot be too vigilant and we cannot be too careful.”
– Stephen Heath-Jones