A Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion username and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses, security researchers say.
The records, discovered by Hold Security, a firm in Milwaukee, include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, ranging from household names to small Internet sites. Hold Security has a history of uncovering significant hacks, including the theft last year of tens of millions of records from Adobe Systems.
Hold Security would not name the victims, citing nondisclosure agreements and a reluctance to name companies whose sites remained vulnerable. At the request of The New York Times, a security expert not affiliated with Hold Security analyzed the database of stolen credentials and confirmed it was authentic. Another computer crime expert who had reviewed the data, but was not allowed to discuss it publicly, said some big companies were aware that their records were among the stolen information.
Alex Holden, the founder and chief information security officer of Hold Security, has a history of helping uncover significant data breaches. Credit Darren Hauck for The New York Times
"Hackers did not just target U.S. companies, they targeted any website they could get, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to very small websites," said Alex Holden, the founder and chief information security officer of Hold Security. "And most of these sites are still vulnerable."
There is worry among some in the security community that keeping personal information out of the hands of thieves is increasingly a losing battle. In December, 40 million credit card numbers and 70 million addresses, phone numbers and additional pieces of personal information were stolen from the retail giant Target by hackers in Eastern Europe.
And in October, federal prosecutors said an identity theft service in Vietnam managed to obtain as many as 200 million personal records, including Social Security numbers, credit card data and bank account information from Court Ventures, a company now owned by the data brokerage firm Experian.
But the discovery by Hold Security dwarfs those incidents, and the size of the latest discovery has prompted security experts to call for improved identity protection on the web.
"Companies that rely on usernames and passwords have to develop a sense of urgency about changing this," said Avivah Litan, a security analyst at Gartner, the research firm. "Until they do, criminals will just keep stockpiling people's credentials."